Independent Graduate: IT's a woman's world

Information technology is often seen as a man's preserve, but that's about to change, says Kate Hilpern

Picture, in your mind, an office full of graduates who work in IT. The chances are that your image is predominantly male. But according to graduate recruiters, it's high time that perception changed. After all, new research from the National Computing Centre shows that a staggering 60 per cent of companies expect to increase their employment of IT staff over the next two years.

"If women don't start entering IT a lot quicker than they are, they'll get left behind in what is today's fastest growing industry," explains a spokesperson. "What's more, they'll miss out on some of the most competitive graduate salaries around."

The most common misconception that turns female graduates off IT, claims Martin Thorne, president of AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) is that a degree in computer science is prerequisite. "Since four out of five computer science graduates are male, it's no wonder women think they don't stand a chance," he says. "The reality is, however, that most of the larger companies are willing to take people with any degree discipline and train them accordingly."

Brian Mulligan, managing director of Easynet, a telephone company and Internet service provider, explains: "Provided you have some experience - even if it's a case of having been involved in setting up a website while you were at university - we're interested. In fact, we actually prefer training graduates ourselves because it means we can give them the range experience that we want them to have, and teach a lot of people at the same time."

Mr Mulligan believes women are under-represented in IT largely because they assume their low numbers mean they must be subject to discrimination - "but anyone in IT will tell you that's a myth".

Shonal Patel, a 22-year-old graduate who joined the IT team of Lloyds TSB last summer, agrees: "My degree course focused on management and I decided to go into marketing. But Lloyds' advertisement for IT sounded exciting so I thought I'd give it a shot. My one concern, though, was about prejudice. After all, there were only 25 per cent of women in the department. But the lack of women is something everybody wants to change."

Peter Poulain, a partner in A&P Computer Services, which places permanent and contract staff, claims he has noticed a sudden surge in the number of female graduates seeking a career in IT. This, he believes, is partly due to the increase in advertising campaigns aimed solely at women. "Some companies are insisting on equal recruitment of men and women," he says. "There's no doubt about it - huge strides are being taken in terms of equal opportunities in IT."

This year, Barclays Capital are recruiting 80 graduates for IT jobs, from all degree disciplines. The training course lasts between 18 months and two years, with fast-track opportunities for those who reveal technical excellence. "At the moment, only 15 per cent are women," confesses Tazmin Walker, the manager of campus recruiting division. "But we are desperately trying to increase that."

Tessa Addison, 23, who didn't plan on a career in IT whilst at university but joined Barclays Capital last year, says, "It's my experience that a lot of women don't apply for computing careers because they think it's about staring at a screen all day. But in fact, we follow all projects through from start to finish. That requires excellent inter-personal skills as well as being able to work well in a team - two things which women are often found to be very good at."

If you're entering IT for the big bucks, it's worth noting that salaries in Greater London are around 25 per cent above those in the rest of the UK and that the highest salaries of all are reported in the Finance and Business Service sectors.

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