Getting girls (and Gen Y) into IT

I’ve spoken to thousands of school kids over the last few years trying to encourage young girls to consider IT as a career choice. Along the way it has become obvious that Gen Y doesn’t really care about IT as a valid career choice generally, not just girls. I’ve come to a few conclusions that I thought might be of interest.

I think there are two parts to the women in IT/FOSS debate specifically:

1) Women already in IT/FOSS
2) Getting more women into FOSS

The former ends up being a matter of support for those that need/like it, and for those that don’t it doesn’t matter. The second issue isn’t one that many women already in FOSS/IT can answer because most of us are not representative of the majority of women due to the interesting filtering mechanism of society and school that for various reasons turns many little girls off IT and therefore off FOSS (in some countries anyway, there are several countries where this isn’t the case).

I do a lot of stuff in category 2, as I’m trying to understand why young people generally are turned off IT and thus FOSS, and I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • Job perception – IT is seen as being anti-social, boring, and something that only “nerdy” boys get into. I always stand in front of these kids and proudly declare I am a geek (which I define as a person who does cool stuff with tech) which blows their minds. A young, extrovert female who loves travelling and trying to help make a better world. I talk to them about the variety of jobs available and about how IT is always changing and fun to get into, which is information they simply aren’t getting from school at the moment. We could all take a little bit of time to talk to schools in our local areas to help the careers advisors, teacher and parents to know more about why IT is an important option for kids to consider
  • Role models – there aren’t many female IT role models actively influencing the choices of young women. This also gives young men that come into the industry incorrect assumptions about women in IT, so women being visible is really important for young people in general. Getting more young women and men working in IT out there as role models is important in getting more young people interested in IT across the board
  • Active turn-offs – teachers and parents actively tell kids to not go into IT, as they think there aren’t any jobs. I’m not kidding. I think this has even more of an impact on girls as they are more career focused earlier in their school life and thus make subject choices much earlier that takes them away from the possibility of discovering the fun and challenges of IT careers
  • Social awareness – kids today are more socially aware than ever before, and they see IT as not a very socially beneficial jobset. This is where I usually bring out the OLPC and talk to them about using technology to improve the world and the lives of millions of underpriveleged people which gets them interested in IT more, and is also a great segway to getting them interested in FOSS

Hopefully that is a useful insight to some of the issues we are facing getting kids and particularly girls in IT today.

3 thoughts on “Getting girls (and Gen Y) into IT”

  1. Hi Pia,

    I think we also need to look at the relative lack of whole career path management in IT, and compare this with other professions such as accounting, law and medicine. In these areas, a similarly talented person will receive a very high degree of life-long guidance, support, mentoring and training.

    As a quick example, compare the ACS web site to that of ICA (Institute of Chartered Accountants), and ask your self which industry seems more likely to provide you with a career-long means to support your family and generally further yourself.

    I would imagine this is a significant factor in the career decision process for women.

    The lack of a widely recognised and respected professional training and qualification process for IT workers seems to be one of the most glaringly obvious differences between this field and others.

  2. I’d agree with James. I’ve also found that when I was working in IT, companies folded or projects got cancelled very regularly. I’ve worked for several companies that made people redundant or completely ceased to be. People in IT change jobs frequently, or work for themselves. That lack of stability is also a stumbling block for many people.

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