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Why Don't Girls Want Careers in Technology?

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This week I was lucky enough collect an award at Red Magazine's Hot Women Awards 2011, which celebrates successful women in industry. What made the experience all the more rewarding was being able to spend some time with a group of women at the top of their fields. We even got to shake hands with Sam Cam.

I was particularly pleased to chat to two women who are leading the charge for female technology innovators everywhere: Cary Marsh, who founded MyDeo, and Kate Burns, the outgoing Senior Vice-President of AOL Europe and former head of Google UK. Both are smart, impressive women who have trail-blazed their way to the very top of the tech industry and should serve as inspiration to all aspiring Lady Geeks out there.

Yet while their progress is heartening, it only puts into perspective the uphill struggle women face in an industry where only 18% of employees are female (e-skills uk). The passing of Steve Jobs last month made me wonder how long it will be before a woman reaches the same exulted status. Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, Page and Brin, Bezos: all the technology giants of recent years are men.

Of course questions need to be asked as to what the industry needs to address the imbalance, and first instinct is to assume that, like many things, it's merely too used to being one big boys club. But I believe the problem goes deeper than that.

These days just as many women as men count themselves as tech users (see my previous blogs) and teenage girls and teenage boys have almost identical internet usage statistics. Yet when it comes to careers, boys are five times more likely to go into technology (ComputerWorld). Why is this? At what point are we losing our girl geeks to other industries?

The problem is largely one of perception. Girls tend to want careers that lean towards what they deem as 'creative' -- advertising, PR and publishing all remain popular choices. Why should they take an interest in tech when all that's on offer for a teenager is a choice between an Information Technology class (spreadsheets, databases, powerpoints, zzzzzsorry what were you saying?) -- and a games console at home (made by boys, played by boys)? It's seen as nerdy, dull and -- dare I say it -- male.

Frustratingly those of us in the tech world know that it can be one of the most creative places a person can work. Instead of boring them to death we should be introducing our young women to exciting cutting edge skills like coding, software development and games design at an early age and showing them that a career in technology is more about creating and building than it is about number crunching. Only then will we start to see a much needed influx of bright young women in the industry.

Until there is a real overhaul of the relationship between tech and women from childhood on up, then the Carys and Kates of this world will remain an endangered species. There is a huge opportunity to make sure our daughters and young girls are creators and leaders of technology as well as consumers.

It's a great time to be a woman.

Belinda Parmar is the founder of Lady Geek TV. Please join the Lady Geek campaign to end the stereotypes and cliches towards women in tech and Like us on Facebook (image in post by Joana Pereira).

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