International Girls in ICT Day hopes to empower and encourage girls and young women to consider careers in the ICT sector.
Delegates will meet in Brussels today for a day of debates and discussion organised by the International Telecommunication Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament.
The discussion will attempt to tackle stereotypical portrayals of girls and women in the media, industry's responsibility for driving the change in the ICT sector, digital skills, and the business case for getting more women to work in ICT.
Tanya Morton, an application engineering manager at MathWorks, based in Cambridge, is passionate about encouraging more girls to pursue careers in the technology sector.
“The stereotypical image of the engineer or technologist as the geeky male is tired and in need of a refresh” she says.
“For this to happen, all young people need to be exposed to technology and the men and women who create it. This will help them to understand that technology is something that everybody can, and should, get involved with from school age onwards.”
And with the Government yesterday announcing more than £2m is to be spent on training teachers to teach the new computer science curriculum the industry may soon get such a boost.
The funding will be used to recruit around 400 Master Teachers in computer science over the next two years who will each be expected to pass on their knowledge to 40 schools m meaning technology teachers in 16,000 primary and secondary schools will be able to teach the government's new computing curriculum and computer science GCSE.
But Morton thinks the focus has to be on the practical aspects of IT.
“Giving all kids, girls and boys, the chance to understand how technology works through project-based learning, such as programming a Raspberry Pi, is far more engaging than just reading about the subject in a text-book,” she says.
“Introducing girls to the creative and exciting possibilities of technology can also raise their awareness of careers in areas they may never have previously considered.
“For students to be able to control an Arduino board, build a computer model, or design a website and say ‘I did that’ is incredibly empowering and enables them to get to grips with technology on their own terms.”
But she believes that providing girls with role models in the sector is vital and it is the technology industry’s responsibility to make sure they are championed.
“Girls should have the confidence to want to be the next Ada Lovelace and to follow in the footsteps of successful women in technology, but it is also important to make these female scientists and technologists more visible. In doing so, we can help to encourage more girls to not just consume, but to create, the technology of tomorrow.”
The issue was brought up in the Commons yesterday to mark the event by Labour MP Chi Onwurah, a former telecommunications engineer and fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), who revealed that women make up only 12 per cent of professional engineers and 15 per cent of those applying for computer science degrees.
“We know that it is critical to engage girls at a young age, before preconceptions have formed, because by the time that they are taking their GCSEs, they might have ruled themselves out of ICT due to earlier choices,” she said.
"The lack of women in ICT is a scandal but it also a huge loss. It is a loss to the country, with a talent pool half the size it could be. Every year the IET’s skills survey shows a severe skills shortage, and it is no wonder if we are excluding half our population.”
She added: “The lack of women in ICT represents a loss to society of the types of ICT that might come from non-male perspectives. I do not hesitate to say that an ICT work force that was more representative of humanity would result in technology which was more humane.
“All too often technology is imposed upon us aggressively and before it is fit for purpose. And yes, I am thinking of automatic tills at supermarkets when I say that. It is common sense, because we know that innovation comes from the creative exchange of ideas between individuals.
“If all the individuals in a company or sector come from the same background, there is necessarily a limit to the ideas and innovation.”
“There is also an intangible loss, but a hugely important one, to our society. Many of the challenges we face, such as climate change, an ageing population with greater health needs and a world of 7 billion people, have technology at their heart, but we are handicapped in addressing them because technology does not have a place in our hearts.
“Technology will never have the position it merits at the heart of our society and economy if it remains the preserve of such a narrow section of society. To drive our economy forward sustainably, ICT needs to be a part of our society and our culture. Given the challenges we face as a nation, we cannot allow ICT to remain such a male occupation.”