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Wednesday, 07 April 2010 15:42

ICT wants more women'¦still'¦


The call has gone out for women ICT professionals to step forward and act as mentors for females entering the profession, a group still significantly outnumbered by their male peers.

At the beginning of the millennium a quarter of all students starting ICT related undergraduate courses in Australia were women. That has now dropped back to around 20 per cent.

When it comes to workforce participation, the figure is even lower - with only around 18 percent of the ICT workforce being female.

That statistic has stubbornly persisted for much of the last decade. In some particular skills areas the gap is even more stark - for example male computer networking professionals outnumber their female peers by about nine to one.

As part of a strategy to encourage more women to consider ICT careers, FITT (Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications) has been running a mentoring programme for the last four years. This year the organisation has received almost double the usual number of applicants for the programme, leaving it with a shortfall of women mentors that it is now seeking to plug.

While the surge in demand for the mentoring programme is encouraging, women are still failing to flood to ICT as a career path. In 2009 there were 249,000 ICT managers and professionals in Australia according to figures from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, women however remain lowly represented with fewer than one in five being female.

Maggie Alexander, an ICT consultant and one of the founders of FITT which has been operating in Australia for over 20 years, acknowledged that the female participation rate was 'not changing very much and it's a worry.'

She added that even where women had entered the sector 'the pay gap is quite distinguishable.'

Alexander however said that in the last 12 months a number of large corporations - both IT vendors and large enterprises including banks and professional services firms - had begun to take out corporate memberships to FITT and were now encouraging their female employees to participate in the mentoring programme as part of their own diversity initiatives.

It was this she believed which had led to the almost doubling of applicants for this year's mentoring programme to 38 women. Currently FITT has just 20 mentors signed up for the programme, and needs to at least double that number.

The organisation is now looking for women with more than five years ICT experience, and who are willing to commit to the six month programme which kicks off in May.

'For the mentee they are looking for the opportunity to develop their career. They can benefit from the experience and wisdom of someone at another level of their career, for advice and shortcuts,' according to Alexander.

Mentors meanwhile were often pleased to be able to 'give something back to the industry' and watch a younger woman make progress in the field.

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