A poster featuring a young woman engineer clad in clubbing gear forms part of a new government campaign to raise the profile of science and technology and provide role models for teenage girls. The campaign, spearheaded by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)’s Office of Science and Technology is the result of research into the attitudes of 14 to 16-year-old girls. The survey found that young girls feel alienated by what they regard as the “impersonal and value-free” content of science and technology. Girls would prefer careers with social relevance. Conforming to the age-old stereotype, their perception of a scientist/technician was a middle-aged man in a white coat.
Launching the campaign at Camden Girls School in London, secretary of state for trade and industry Peter Mandelson admitted that recruiting women for IT jobs was a huge problem for employers. “There is no reason why women should not become leaders in this technological age” said Mandelson — a keen technophile. Currently 85% of the full time science, engineering and technology workforce are male.
The posters, which will be distributed to 6,000 secondary schools in the UK, are designed to dispel the myth that science is the preserve of the highly intelligent male and seeks to emphasis the personal and social lives of successful women scientists and engineers featured in the campaign. Six women appear in the posters — some of whom left school at 16 — under the pictures of them are details about how they got the job. One of campaign stars, senior lighting technician Clare O’Donoghue, stressed the importance of computer skills. “I use very specialised advanced computer systems to plot and control the lights. Taking science and maths at school gave me the confidence to deal with the technical side.”
The gender gap in technology know-how is also borne out by a separate survey carried out by Cable and Wireless Communications. The study found only 11% of women use the Internet and many respondents feel that the Web is of no interest or use to them. To this end, Cable and Wireless in partnership with Arcadia Group (owners of high-street fashion stores such as Principles, Evans and Dorothy Perkins) has been promoting the Internet via the Principles Web site. Arcadia hopes to distribute 40,000 free CD-ROMs with Racing Green and Principles catalogues. The CD includes an easy guide to the Web marketing the telco’s own Internet Lite service. Eva Pascoe, on-line marketing director for Arcadia believes that e-commerce has an important role to play in getting women IT-savvy.
“On-line shopping is fun and gives women the tools to use for something else. It’s easier to persuade them to use technology if you sell them beautiful clothes. Women like shopping,” she said.
According to Pascoe, on-line shopping is the perfect stepping stone to computer confidence. “When the Evans web site was launched six months ago, most of the e-mail accounts were in a male names. Since then we have seen more and more female accounts as women take ownership of the technology.”
For one woman surfing the Net proved to be life-changing. Discovering the Evans web site with scant computing knowledge, she is now the on-line marketing manager for another company – proof that the Internet is outgrowing its male-only image.
Jane Wakefield ZDNet.co.uk
19 Nov 1998