The government has announced a package of measures aimed at giving the IT industry a makeover to try and attract more women into the sector and tackle skills shortages. Quentin Reade reports
A raft of measures aimed at attracting more women into IT to overcome skills shortages in the sector have been announced by the Government.
The initiative was launched by Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt earlier this month to try and make the sector more appealing to school-age girls and retain working mothers currently in the field.
According to the National Computing Centre, the number of women in IT has fallen over the last eight years. In 1994 women made up 29 per cent of the IT workforce - compared to just 18 per cent today.
One of the key proposals is the formation of the Champions Group, to be made up of seven senior HR professionals who will advise the government at a strategic level on what can done to address the problem.
Rebecca George, director of UK Government Business at IBM and head of the Champions Group, believes a major obstacle to increasing the number of female IT staff is its poor image.
She thinks women are turned off by the sector because they believe the industry is filled with nerdy boys hunched over computers. "We want to show them that people involved in IT are ordinary," she said.
George said having an industry-based group is important because it will be "business people who make the decisions".
Anne Cantelo, project director at e-skills National Training Organisation, which is supporting the DTI plans, said the idea behind the Champions Group is to form a panel that can "move and shake and get things done".
Cantelo believes women need more work-experience at IT companies and should be offered more information about career options in the sector.
"This is an economic issue. We will need skilled people for when the economy starts booming again," she said.
Efforts to overcome the IT sector's poor image among women will begin at school.
US company Macromedia is to supply free software to schools which run computer clubs for girls. The clubs, to be piloted in the South East, will focus on appealing to girls aged between 11 and 13 and offer activities such as designing magazine covers.
The programme will also see science and engineering a