BBC Tomorrow's World presenter and technology broadcaster and TeenTech founder Maggie Philbin has joined forces with Network Rail to help dispel myths about working in IT and encourage more girls to pursue a tech-related career.
Maggie was one of three guest tech experts who spoke at an event on Friday 20 February with 75 girls aged 16-18 who are finalists in Network Rail's award-winning Could IT Be You? competition, set up in 2013 by the company’s chief information officer, Susan Cooklin, after she raised concerns about the rapid slide in the number of women entering the UK's IT sector.
According to the employer body e-skills UK, the number of women working in the IT industry in Britain is falling dramatically. In the 1980s it was as high as 38% but by 2013 has fallen to just 16%. Every year the IT and telecoms professional workforce requires almost 21,000 new entrants directly from education, but at present, only 15% of students on IT-related degrees in the UK are female.
Commenting on why girls aren’t choosing the technology path given how much it impacts on our lives, Maggie Philbin said: "The rich variety of roles and opportunities within IT are poorly understood not only by students but by parents and teachers. There's a real responsibility for employers to do as much as they can to clarify what's involved and help students understand how they very much belong in this world.
"This great initiative from Network Rail is helping girls to see themselves in roles they may have previously discounted because they had a perception of rail as a male industry. It's not all hard hats and hi-vis jackets but an industry that needs good thinkers, people who thrive on teamwork and will derive satisfaction from solving infrastructure problems of every kind. It's a great industry and one where women can really make their mark."
Susan Cooklin, Network Rail's chief information officer and founder of Could IT Be You?, said: "Popular culture has helped create a perception among young women that a career in IT is all about writing code in basement offices – the reality couldn't be further from the truth. The winners from last year’s competition all showed a creative mind for solving problems and good communications, and these are the skills that business leaders are after. Technology plays an absolutely crucial role in moving 4.5m people by rail in Britain, safely and reliably, every day. This competition is a great way to help young women realise what a career in IT is really about and the fantastic career opportunities that a company like Network Rail can offer."
The Could IT Be You? competition for girls aged 16-18, asked them to explain how technology can improve their lives and make things better. The winner gets their first year of university fees paid for by Network Rail, and with three runners up, two weeks paid work experience and mentoring with the company’s IT team. The winners will be announced next month.
Network Rail is also taking part in events organised by TeenTech, founded by Maggie in 2008, which runs lively one-day events to help the 'X Factor' generation understand their true potential and the technology opportunities available in the modern workplace.
A survey conducted in 2013 for Network Rail of 16-24 year old women in Britain revealed:
- 64% of women have not considered a career in IT.
- 28% had but were not currently working in the industry.
- Negative stereotypes put 10% off pursuing a career with 43% saying it was a lack of technical skill. A further 41% said it was inadequate career advice or little insight into the industry.
- 58% believe that a high level of technical expertise in computer programming or code is the most important skill for a successful career in IT. 23% thought a degree or college qualification in a technology subject was most important.
- Only 4% thought good project management skills were the most important with only 7% citing good communication skills as the most valuable.
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