Network Rail to pay first year's university fee in new competition to encourage more women into IT
Network Rail's chief information officer is so concerned about the rapid slide in the number of women entering the UK's IT sector, she has launched a new competition for girls which will see the company pay the winner's first year of university fees.
The competition – Could IT Be You – has been designed by six women in Network Rail's 500-strong IT team, led by group CIO Susan Cooklin, and aims to show girls what working in IT is really about and the career opportunities open to them.
The latest figures from e-skills UK shows the proportion of women working in technology roles in the UK has more than halved since the 1980s* despite technology becoming an increasingly integral part of our every-day lives.
A new survey for Network Rail of 16-24 year old women in Britain revealed:
64% of women have not considered a career in IT.
28% had but were not currently working in the industry.
Negative stereotypes put 10% off pursuing a career with 43% saying it was a lack of technical skill. A further 41% said it was inadequate career advice or little insight into the industry.
58% believe that a high level of technical expertise in computer programming or code is the most important skill for a successful career in IT. 23% thought a degree or college qualification in a technology subject was most important.
Only 4% thought good project management skills were the most important with only 7% citing good communication skills as the most valuable.
From 2008-12 the percentage of women in IT roles at Network Rail has grown from 26% to 28%, but only 20% of those applying for the company’s information management graduate scheme were female.
Ms Cooklin said: "Popular culture has helped create a perception amongst young women that a career in IT is all about writing code in basement offices – the reality couldn't be further from the truth.
"Could IT Be You aims to break down those myths and help young women realise how the skills and behaviours they already have – such as good communications, problem solving and working creatively – are exactly what business leaders are after. While there are people in my team who are technical experts with IT-related qualifications, there are just as many whose skills lie in other important areas and do a critical job delivering the IT projects that make our railway run better".
The six women who devised the competition all work in IT project management roles at Network Rail. Only one has a technical subject undergraduate degree - the others studied History, English, Psychology and Philosophy, and Biochemistry and Pharmacology. Three of the women went on to study for the MSc in Project Management devised by Network Rail in partnership with the University of Warwick and University College London.
Sarah Jane Crawford - speaking in the video below - is going out to schools next week to promote the competition. Speaking about why she wanted to get involved, she said: "The IT industry is one of the most far reaching and fast moving industries out there.
Every major company relies on technology to keep running; whether it's Topshop, which manages their supply chain, website and finances through IT or Network Rail, which manages trains, assets and their corporate services. Working in IT means that the types of companies you can work for is not limited and the experience you can gain is massive. It's exciting, creative and fast paced and it's also the only industry that has thrived despite the economic challenges.
"When I was seventeen, I didn't imagine I would be working in the IT industry, but I kept my options open. I completed my studies in subjects I enjoyed and did my degree in Psychology and Philosophy at Leeds University. Once these were complete I looked at every option".
Ruth Stevens - speaking in the video below - a 26 year-old Network Rail IT project manager who helped develop the competition said: "It's not always easy to know at sixteen what you want to do for a job when you're in your twenties, or even what you might be good at. It can all seem so daunting. By sharing my experience through the competition, I want to help open this exciting world up to others, especially young women, who may not realise all the great things they could do. I did English at university and now I'm an IT project manager. It's not what you would traditionally expect but technology is central to all our lives, so I really feel as if I'm making a difference".
To enter the competition, girls aged 16-18 years are asked to visit a new website - www.couldITbu.co.uk - to answer five simple questions and provide a short essay. The website includes inspiring video diaries from the six women who devised the competition who talk about their career path, skills and interests.
Fifty entrants will be invited to a networking day at Network Rail's national centre in Milton Keynes in February. Here they will have the opportunity to meet influential business women from various industries, learn valuable skills such as CV writing and interview techniques. They will be asked to record a minute-long film about their experience of the day.
Those who record the top four films will win two weeks' work experience at Network Rail during the summer of 2014 and continued mentoring, with the best winning all this as well as the first prize of having their first year of university fees paid.