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Women in Tech: Why not right now?

 June 03, 2013

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Out of the top 25 spots on Forbes' magazine 100 most powerful women list, just five were held by women in technology-related firms and jobs, including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and IBM’s Ginni Rometty.

Though it is encouraging to see these women at the top of the IT industry, they are still a minority in the sector as a whole. According to e-skills UK, the national sector skills council for the IT industry, women accounted for less than 20 per cent of professionals in IT and telecommunications in the UK - a country where nearly half of the workforce is female.

As business is increasingly reliant on technology, it stands to reason that if women are steering clear of technology careers, they will lose out. Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, blogged on International Women’s Day this year about the power of information communications technology (ICT) for women: “Not only is it the key to tomorrow’s labour market, with ICT skills in strong demand. But it can also help achieve your life goals, whatever they are”. Increasing the proportion of women in the sector, then, is “not just good for equal rights - it’s essential to our competitiveness”, Kroes wrote.

There are numerous initiatives to encourage young women and girls into tech careers in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere. But the IT sector is already brimming with opportunities for women, not least because of the opportunities for alternative work arrangements it offers. In a recent survey of 7,000 professionals by work platform Elance, four-fifths of respondents said they’re optimistic about the future of women in high-tech jobs.  The results suggest that, for some women, the potential for online work in the tech sector creates opportunities that are more accessible than those in traditional work setups.

Firms are also seeking out female IT professionals for permanent and in-house jobs so as to redress the gender balance and take advantage of a vast and as yet underused pool of talent. Opportunities for women can be found not only in technology-focused enterprises but also non-technology companies. Banks to public services need bright professionals in their IT departments as well. Those with no prior experience can also take advantage of this growing area: some companies will hire and train outstanding people with unrelated degrees or backgrounds. Many women are now moving off the beaten track and starting their own e-businesses.

It’s important to encourage women’s interest and talent in technology from a young age, but it’s also clear that good candidates are currently in demand. In the words of Neelie Kroes – in ICT, “there are opportunities out there if you aren’t afraid to grab them”.

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