Businesses need to ‘get with the program’ to get more girls into IT

17 Sep 2013

The technology industry in Ireland is in buoyant form. There are as many as 6,000 IT job vacancies in the country and more than 700,000 IT job vacancies across the EU, according to Richard Bruton, Ireland’s Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Yet, many of these jobs are not being filled. The difficulty lies in recruiting women for these roles and also getting more women already in technology to fill senior roles in technology.

Several senior women leaders in Ireland’s technology industry agree that the low level of female participation in the industry is largely due to a lack of emphasis on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in secondary schools, and the stereotype of technology being a male pursuit.

Women leaders from IBM, PayPal, Accenture and IDA Ireland, who are members of a new industry organisation called the Multinational Technology Forum, all agree the tech sector holds all kinds of opportunities. They said businesses in the sector and people in the industry who have enjoyed successful careers need to do more to get that message to parents and students.

IBM Ireland employs more than 3,000 people in Ireland and last year announced several hundred new jobs for the country.

Rosemaree Danaher, strategy and integration manager at IBM Ireland, said more action is needed to ensure girls have the choice to study STEM subjects.

“The problem is around making technology cool and interesting for girls and we need to engage early and often to let them see that it isn’t all about coding or working in a lab,” Danaher said.

“The challenge is around creating role models so these young girls and women can see other successful role models and trailblazers and aspire to be like them.”

She said the dynamic needs to shift from the present ratio of typically one female and 19 males in an office to a more even ratio.

Companies investing in Ireland

Last year, IDA Ireland companies created 12,722 new positions. Companies expanding and investing in Ireland include eBay, EMC, McAfee, Pfizer, Sanofi, Symantec, Huawei, Yahoo!, Facebook, Groupon, Qualcomm, Novartis and AOL. These projects are expected to the lead to the direct creation of 7,000 jobs, while also providing a boost for the property and construction industries with 5,000 new jobs.

Maeve McConnon, IDA Ireland’s manager in charge of Content, Consumer and Business services, said there have been successes in Ireland recently, with initiatives like the CoderDojo coding club, in which a significant number of girls participate.

“In technology today, there are a broad spectrum of jobs, from the coder to the business analyst, who are using their analytical and problem-solving skills to solve real business problems. As coding becomes more commoditised, the real value will be in interpreting technology and trends for ordinary people,” McConnon said.

Companies are relying on technology – mobile, analytics, big data, social media and cloud computing – to understand consumer behaviour.

“All of these trends are creating new opportunities for companies but also exciting careers across the board with a technology flavour,” McConnon said.

Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, employs 1,400 people in Ireland.

Julie Spillane, managing director of Accenture Global Services and chair of the Multinational Technology Forum, said the problem goes back to girls having access to the right subjects in school and in the way those subjects are taught.

Businesses in the tech space have a role to play.

“The more they engage with girls in secondary school, the more they can make it relevant for girls,” said Spillane. “It is a balancing act. Some initiatives to boost female participation in STEM have sent out overly girly messages and that can alienate girls.”

Role models for girls

Spillane said women who have built successful careers in the tech industry have a responsibility to bring other girls through, and show them what a career in technology looks like.

“I would say to these women, step up and get involved and let girls be inspired by role models.”

Also creating jobs in Ireland is PayPal, which employs 1,500 people in the country. The company announced 1,000 new jobs last year, while its parent company eBay announced 450 jobs in Dundalk, Co Louth, earlier this year.

Louise Phelan, PayPal’s head of global operations EMEA, said there needs to be an emphasis on encouraging more girls into IT and on spreading soft skills among graduates.

“People are our most important asset and if we don’t realise that then we’ve missed the game because people are looking for a career, not a job, and these are the people who will look after our customer,” Phelan said.

What PayPal is seeing right now as students come out of college is that the piece of paper isn’t enough anymore.

“What’s needed are the soft skills so that they can present themselves and sell themselves into organisations,” said Phelan.

Women have come a long way and there are many senior women in the technology industry, she added. It doesn’t stop there, though.

“We need to change the thinking process around how we engage with third level and bring the soft skills to help students get to the next stage,” Phelan said.

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 15 September

Tech woman image via Shutterstock

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology,engineering and maths

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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