When we looked around our IT department, we noticed something. At first glance it seemed a normal office, with normal people doing normal work, but when we looked closer, we realised that what we had come to consider ‘normal’ was just what we were familiar with. This ‘normal’ we talked of, was a lack of diversity, and in particular, a lack of young women in IT.
Network Rail took a stand and decided to actively address this issue, by fuelling the pipeline of young women into our sector through the Could IT Be You initiative. The scheme was launched and is a targeted awareness campaign and competition for 16-18 year old girls. Our aim was to improve the perceptions of young women so that they would begin to see IT as a career for all.
In the first year of this campaign we reached over a thousand young women and we were impressed by the entries. The prize for the winner was having their first year university fees paid. The top 75 entries attended our corporate offices, and the winner along with 5 runners up had two weeks work experience. The initiative was a resounding success and we have committed to repeating it at least until 2016.
A perception of the IT industry as a male environment still persists, reflected by only 17% of the IT workforce being women, compared to 38% in the 1980s. Watching this downward trend Susan Cooklin, our Group Chief Information Officer (CIO) became concerned.There was an evident lack of understanding amongst her peers in the industry and colleagues, that this decline was a negative trend, let alone anyone knowing how to begin to tackle it.
We conducted a survey of a thousand 16-24 year olds to gain a more current view about this downward trend. The results of this survey confirmed the uninformed perceptions that contributed to this pattern:
- 48% had not considered a career in IT because they thought that they did not possess the required skills, or had a lack of interest.
- 43% were discouraged because of a perceived lack of technical skill which would prevent them from pursuing a career in IT.
- 31% were discouraged because they had limited insight into the reality of the IT industry.
Network Rail recognises that to be a world class business and industry leader, we need to ensure that we are attracting and retaining the best talent. If women are not considering roles in the IT industry, then we are missing out on a large proportion of the workforce. We need to be influencing the considerations of young women, particularly whilst girls are making important educational decisions for their future. That is why we are targeting 16-18 year old girls and encouraging them consider taking up STEM subjects and a career in IT.
The poll Network Rail commissioned reinforced the negative views. Rejecting the stereotypes, the Could IT Be You? team, mixed and made up of a majority of young women, positioned themselves as the face of the initiative. They were ambassadors and role models who could engage with young girls at a more personal level, which was at the heart of the campaign.
The use of technology and social media meant that the campaign went further than traditional industry and technology articles. It showed the team as real women, in real careers in IT, creating a link between the choices young women are making today and a future career as an IT professional.
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