How do we encourage more young women to pursue IT?

By Siobhan Keogh

It’s a question that Australasian Women in Computing, or AWIC, tried to answer at Australasian Computer Science Week.

The ACSW conference is Australasia’s largest computer science conference, and took place this week at AUT University in Auckland. Datacom was a key sponsor. In 2014, one of the conference’s objectives was to help increase women’s participation in IT.

While women still make up only about a quarter of the IT workforce in New Zealand and the dropout rate for women studying IT is high, there were plenty of women in attendance at ACSW, and several of women-centric events for attendees.

Among the many women who presented at the event were the four panellists on the ‘Successful women in IT’ session: Jo Allison of Gen-i, Jo Healey of Fujitsu, Lyndal Stewart of Business Mechanix and independent director Helen Robinson.

One of the key points that all of these women agreed on was the need for training and mentoring  from a young age – not just in universities, but in high school and even younger. Within their organisations, the women ran internship programmes and careers workshops, and outside of their organisations all took part in women in technology meet-ups.

Part of the issue, the panel agreed, was that young girls didn’t know about the full range of roles available in IT. Girls who didn’t want to be programmers quickly decided IT wasn’t the career path for them.

And the women on the panel were living proof that you don’t have to know how to code to have an IT career – none of them had a particularly technical background, but they were at the top of their game in IT.

Allison pointed out that many of the most successful people at the companies she’d worked at had marketing degrees, not degrees in IT, and Allison herself studied commerce.

Healey agreed. “You have to have core business leadership skills,” she said, “and financial literacy.”

Here at Datacom we are working hard to keep this conversation active and there are many formal and informal actions underway across our business and across multiple networking groups for women in IT to share their stories.

In Auckland, there are Women in Technology meet-ups, and Girl Geek Dinners run in Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga and Christchurch.