Women in Information Technology

  • Sep 08, 2005
  • Janet Sneddon
  • Career advancement

As a woman whose business it is to help people prepare for jobs in Information Technology (IT), I’m always disappointed in the ratio of women to men in our training programs.  The women who successfully complete IT training invariably go onto to well-paying careers with a bright future.  There just aren’t enough women entering this field in Canada at the moment.

Not so in the rest of the world, however.  Dr. M. Suriya has been studying the issue of gender within the Information Technology sector since 1997. She is currently gathering material for her research as a visiting scholar with the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario.  She is also affiliated with the University of Frieburg, Germany and Annamalai University in India.

Dr. Suriya was asked by her government to study the unique phenomenon of an equal number of men and women working in IT in India, which has since led to a worldwide study of women in IT.   That 60/40 ratio in India is in stark contrast to findings in Ontario, where only 17% of IT professionals are women.  Other Canadian provinces have a slightly better proportion of women in the IT sector, ranging from 20-30%.  However, Dr. Suriya’s findings in India hold true across Southern Asia, where in some countries (such as Malaysia), women account for up to 60% of IT workers.  In North America and most of Europe, however, women are still working to achieve representation in the 20% range.

The reasons for the differences are numerous, of course.  More importantly, Dr. Suriya has practical suggestions for leveling the playing field so that women participate fully in the ever-growing field of IT.   They include:  starting at home by encouraging young girls to think about and play with technology; expanding the course content and pedagogy of math and science courses to include a more female-oriented approach; combine courses from other disciplines with computer science and IT training courses that are creative and group oriented and therefore more attractive to women. Dr. Suriya cites as a good example the web-design and digital imaging  courses in the Communications and Media program at Western, which is highly populated by female students, whereas exactly the same courses offered in the Computer Science faculty are male dominated.

Governments in “high ratio” countries have been instrumental in providing funding for IT education and training to encourage everyone, not just women, to become technically sophisticated.  Women in these selected countries have seized these opportunities because IT work demands creativity, flexibility, teamwork and multi-tasking – all qualities at which women excel naturally in their everyday lives.  IT careers also allow prosperity for women, where they are competing with men for these well paying jobs that are cerebrally - rather than physically -  challenging.

Once a woman has entered one of the multitude of IT fields, mentoring by other women already working in IT is crucial.  In Canada, and right here in London, one of these mentoring groups is Digital Eve, whose mandate is to encourage women and girls to pursue technology-related careers and include all women -- of all races, ethnicities, economic levels, ages, abilities, and lifestyles -- as participants in our technology communities.  More on DigitalEve in the next column. 

Dr. Suriya invites people in London’s IT sector (especially multimedia and web technology) to share their experiences and opinion with her, to be included in her research.  Contact her at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Room 282, Middlesex College (519) 661-2111 Ext.86677 before March 14th, or anytime at au_surya@hotmail.com