Study: Girls find few female role models in IT field

Though technology becomes more pervasive in the lives of young people each day, technology jobs aren’t high on the lists of what they want to do when they grow up.

Consider the 90 per cent of girls between the ages of 11 and 16 who think computers and cutting edge gadgets are cool, according to a recent survey of 1,000 U.K. adolescents: Only 28 per cent of those girls are considering careers in the technology industry.

The number of boys in that age range who say they’ve thought about pursuing technology careers is nearly double the number of girls, at 53 per cent, according to the research, which was conducted by youth communications group Dubit Ltd. BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) (TSX: ) commissioned the study in conjunction with its annual BlackBerry Women & Technology Awards. Dubit conducted the survey in April and asked respondents about their perceptions of the IT field and about their future career plans.

Seventy-three per cent of young girls say there’s a big difference between using technology in their personal lives and wanting to pursue careers in technology because of the relative few “smart female role models,” the survey says. More than half the girls also think there should be fewer celebrity role models like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, and more inspirational business role models. Notable technology executives who could fit the bill include CIO magazine Hall of Fame inductees Barbara Cooper and Dawn Lepore. RIM itself also has a female CIO, Robin Bienfait.

“Never underestimate the power of role models. If young women can see a career path which has been enjoyable and rewarding for another, they are more likely to follow it themselves,” said Maggie Philbin, former host of popular British science and technology TV show, Tomorrow’s World, in a press release. “It’s so frustrating to see teenagers using technology naturally and creatively, seemingly unaware that they could play a key role in shaping the way we use technology in the future. And it’s equally important, once they make the decision to work in this area, that they are encouraged and inspired to rise to the highest level.”

Additional survey findings include:

*Thirty-eight per cent of young girls surveyed use the latest technologies, including social networking applications, online games and mobile downloads, on a daily basis

*Forty-three per cent of respondents (male and female) say they haven’t considered a career in IT because it was “not exciting”

*Just under a third (30 per cent) of those surveyed said a career in technology is “too geeky”

Survey respondents cited good pay and excitement respectively as the number one and two priorities most important in shaping their future career plans. Three-quarters of kids surveyed said they’d be more attracted to IT careers if they associated such jobs with high-pay.

More information and help regarding tech opportunities in schools would make IT careers more attractive to respondents.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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