Mirror on IT's missing half

April 7, 1995

"We have far too few information technology lecturers and far too few IT professors," says Dagenham MP Judith Church - and the "we" comprises more than half the world's population.

Ms Church has introduced a private member's bill on women and information technology into the House of Commons. Its second reading is on April 21.

The bill calls on the Government to use grant funding and annual national audits of public bodies to promote involvement of women in IT.

It calls for Government action to increase the number of female teachers in IT at all levels, the promotion of single sex computer clubs and the way IT is used in primary schools, other than for teaching mathematics.

Ms Church believes that universities must address the problem of declining interest in IT among women of all ages at a time when demand for such skills seriously exceeds the supply.

She knows there are no easy fixes in the higher education sector but hopes that at least the marketing departments in universities can develop different ways of packaging their institutions' courses. " Women are put off from applying for degrees courses that appear clearly male-orientated, for example electrical and electronic engineering. Perhaps some cross-disciplinary effort could be made with the arts, in business studies and management. But we must also be careful not to dilute the present IT courses," she says.

Ms Church's bill focuses on measures to address the under-representation of women in IT, "the result of an IT culture that alienates girls at an early age and continues to deny them access throughout their careers".

Ms Church said: "The percentage of girls studying computer science at A level dropped from 22 per cent in 1978 to a mere 19 per cent in 1993. Entry to computer science courses in the United Kingdom universities is only 17 per cent compared with 22 per cent in 1980."

At Southampton, one of the leading research universities, only nine out of 93 of this year's first-year intake in computer science are women, Ms Church said.

"Recent research has suggested that there is little gender difference in attitudes to IT among people aged between six and ten. The retail market is making it clear who its targets really are. Does anyone seriously believe that young boys would play with something called 'Gamegirl'?

"To put it simply, there is a sharp and steady increase in demand for IT labour, and a decline in supply. The gap is widening so quickly, when it should be halted by attention to our female population as a resource."

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