Girls have got to get IT together

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The Independent Online

Lady Victoria Hervey and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson might be slightly passé. But Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt is determined to find the next generation of "IT" girls.

In response to new figures showing that only one in five people currently working in Information Technology is female, Ms Hewitt will tomorrow launch a scheme to attract more women into IT jobs.

She is keen to reverse trends that have left Britain lagging way behind America, Canada and Ireland when it comes to getting women into hi-tech industries, especially as IT is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative industries in the UK economy.

During a visit to a Bristol firm tomorrow, Ms Hewitt will announce a government initiative planned for next year. Its aims are to encourage schoolgirls to use IT, to advise young women about opportunities in the field and to work with businesses to ensure they recruit and retain women in IT jobs.

Although women make up more than half the UK's workforce, only 22 per cent are employed in IT. Yet in the past five years the number of people in IT jobs has grown by around 50 per cent, compared with 8 per cent growth in other sectors. And while the average female graduate earns £14,000 a year, those working as computer scientists earn on average £17,000.

Ms Hewitt said: "We need to give IT an image makeover to make it more attractive to women. Only 22 per cent of the IT workforce is currently made up of women – and the image that many schoolgirls have of IT is more computer geek than computer chic.

"Although more women are now working than ever before, too many are low paid and too few are well paid.

"I want to see more women in interesting, well-paid jobs and IT is a great way to get there. Female IT graduates earn about £3,000 more than other female graduates.

"We want to see more 'IT' girls and fewer net nerds in our computing industries."

Ms Hewitt's drive to get young women involved in the IT industry is also a clear attempt to re-establish her female-friendly credentials following recent criticism of maternity rights policies and changes to the industrial tribunal system.