Where have all the IT girls gone?

Only the most determined women thrive in the alien, male-dominated techie corner of the office. But the few who have would like to see more bright young women join them in this fast-moving and well-paid sector. Emma de Vita reports, with case studies by Miranda Kennett.

Anyone with a young daughter will know how difficult it is to prise them away from their Nintendo DS - didn't you know Nintendogs rules, okay? Yet that's where the fascination with computers appears to end for girls. Leave boys on their own with a games console, however, and not only will they play it obsessively, but they will, with the aid of a small screwdriver, start taking the thing apart. It's not uncommon to see a boy emerge from his bedroom with a dismantled gadget in hand. But have you ever seen a girl covered in debris from dismembering a computer?

Actually, Caroline Plumb, CEO of research and recruitment agency FreshMinds, used to do it all the time (along with videos, speakers and vacuum cleaners), and it was no surprise that she chose to study engineering at university. Says Plumb: 'My taking things apart finally ended up being useful, as I personally built the first two computers for FreshMinds from the motherboard up ... closet geek!' But she is in a female minority among the male geek majority. Science, engineering and technology remain male preserves in the UK - particularly computer science, where only 13% of all successful higher-education applicants in 2006 were female.

And then you have to consider that, of the 1.6 million people working in IT, only a sixth are women. According to high-tech trade association Intellect, just 20% of IT managers, 16% of software professionals and 12% of IT strategists are female. Apple has no women in senior management roles on its board, although HP, Cisco and eBay do.

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