The ICT industry will continue to be male dominated unless drastic measures are taken to redress the balance, says Auckland University Department of Information Systems and Operations Management senior lecturer Cathy Urquhart.
“The most compelling statistic [from Statistics NZ] that jumps out at me is that 74 percent of IT workers are male,” says Urquhart, whose background involves IT systems analysis. “There’s also a distinct lack of minorities in ICT. It’s a question of diversity. If I look at the finalists of the Imagine Cup [an annual event for IT entrepreneurs] they’re overwhelmingly male.”
She says her own career is proof of the fault to be found in the assumptions made over the skills needed to enter the profession.
“ICT is seen as a very masculine domain that needs strong mathematical skills and logic, rather than literacy and interpersonal skills. That seems extraordinary to me when I consider my own career as a systems analyst.”
Urquhart believes the industry needs to “positively discriminate.”“We need to do things like have female-only tutorial groups, mentoring and women-only scholarships.”
Urquhart quips if she had presented these ideas to her academic male colleagues she would have met resistance.
“I would like to point out to my esteemed male colleagues that you already have a big special group, there’s a lot of you.”
She says New Zealand could take the lead on the issue of women in IT, being the first to give women the vote in 1893.
“Why couldn’t we be the first ICT industry in the world to address this issue in a very positive way?
“My little girl is with me when I’m working on the computer and we’ve now got a generation where ICT is completely ubiquitous. Things are going to change but that could take another 20 years.”