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Women want IT to serve a purpose

More usefulness and less of a nerdy image may tempt more women into IT. IBM used their Technology and Women-Day to show female upper secondary school students that coding, for example, helps cancer specialists save lives. 
If the same number of women as men went into IT, Denmark would have 1,700 more IT specialists a year and the business community’s recruitment problems would be alleviated. But to many women, IT smells too much of men sitting around in a basement eating pizza and never changing their socks. Photo: Colourbox

Publiceret: 24.11.2016
Af Karen Witt Olsen mail

“We need to get the message across that IT and technology save lives. That it ensures smarter waste management and helps third-world countries. If we explain how many problems can be solved, many more women will want to go into IT.”

This is the recipe for selling the subject of IT to young women – from someone who is herself studying IT.

22-year-old Christine Albrechtsen is reading Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark and specialises in Design and Innovation. In her spare time, she works as CSR project manager at IBM.

The business community need more people like Christine. Many more.

From raw code to cancer prevention

Projections show that Denmark will have a shortfall of 19,000 IT specialists by 2030. Nonetheless, women comprise only 27.5% of admissions to IT courses at Danish universities and business colleges.

This is one of the reasons that IBM organised a Technology and Women-Day on Monday when 30 female upper secondary school students visited IBM at their offices in Holte.

“They met some of the company’s young female role models, such as Christine Albrechtsen, and hopefully gain an insight into how cool IT and technology can be,” explains CSR Manager Sanne Urbak.

“We hope that we were able to show them that IT and technology are part of the solution – how we, for example, get from raw code to helping cancer specialists prevent and cure cancer. We know that young people today want a job that they believe is meaningful. Hopefully, they will be able to see here at IBM that there is no contradiction between being a young woman and working in a tech company,” she says.

See also: The senior executive who ditched the big office

Breaking with old myths

IBM have been organising events about young women and technology in Denmark since 2002. Apart from demystifying IT and technology for their visitors on the day, IBM also hope that these visitors will spread the good news to their girlfriends and mothers.

“As an innovative business, we need diversity to match the demands of the market and be able to develop continuously. Women play a key role in this – including in hardcore technology where it is important that we dispel the old myths that IT is for nerds sitting in a basement eating pizza and drinking coke and never changing their socks,” says Sanne Urbak, IBM’s CSR manager.

See also: Tech giants love Denmark

Screen or people?

About a third of businesses that have attempted to recruit IT specialists have not filled their vacancies or not been able to find candidates offering the right technical skills.

If the same number of women as men went into IT, Denmark would have 1,700 more IT specialists a year.

Industry Director Adam Lebech from DI Digital completely agrees that this requires that the IT industry works to improve its image.

“It’s a widespread perception that IT jobs represent a ’nerdy’ culture with long hours and nights tied to a computer screen. That’s just not the way it is. IT is very much a people-focused business. That’s why events such as the one IBM are hosting are important in order to give young women an idea of what an IT career is really all about,” he says.

See also: DI Analyse – Too few women going into IT (in Danish)

Coding can do more than French

In addition to their Technology and Girls event, IBM also host code workshops for pupils, hackathons and tournaments involving Star Wars robots. Christine Albrechtsen manages some of IBM’s projects, and it is easy for the 22-year-old Engineering student to spread her enthusiasm.

“Being able to show them how easy and fun it can be to code to make a light come on or a machine start is really cool. I wish that everyone studied basic IT and technology in upper secondary school. Not that it should become ‘blackboxed’, but that students should appreciate that coding is a language that can be learnt just like English and French can – it’s just a language that can do so much more,” she says.

Through her training in Civil Engineering and specialisation in design and innovation, Christine Albrechtsen has herself become more hooked on the raw backstage technology, as she calls it, and is currently taking optional subjects at DTU Elektro.

“I’m now five semesters into my course and I want to know how things work – the electronics involved in our prototypes. But it’s important to tone down the technical aspects to begin with and focus on problem-solving if more women are to be recruited. When they discover that it isn’t difficult, their scepticism may turn into curiosity about the technical side of things,” she says.

See also: Foreign nationals to plug the shortfall of IT specialists in Denmark

National plan for strengthening digital skills

Business graduate programme for IT specialists

Campaign to improve the image of IT among women

Creation of a Taskforce as part of a national plan
- This includes collecting and explaining the factors that influence the choices young women make when selecting or deselecting a career in IT.

See also: DI Analyse – Too few women going into IT (in Danish) 

We need to get the message across that IT and technology save lives. That it ensures smarter waste management and helps third-world countries. If we explain how many problems can be solved, many more women will want to go into IT.

CHRISTINE ALBRECHTSEN, STUDYING DESIGN AND INNOVATION ENGINEERING AT THE TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF DENMARK
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PUBLISHED: 11/24/2016 LAST MODIFIED: 11/25/2016