Female Students Challenge the Information Technology Boys Club One Click at a Time

October 24, 2011

The fast-growing IT sector has always been viewed as something of an all-boys club, but a group of female students from across Halton are doing what they can to change that notion, proving once and for all that girls can code, script, program and design just as well as the boys.

Marta Klemens, Michelle O'Keefe, Riley Henderson and Taylor Wynne of Assumption Catholic Secondary School; and Leila Caster, Kelly Maclauchlan, Emily Hunt and Vanessa Lawson of T.A. Blakelock High School have been challenging stereotypes about women and technology by getting involved in some of the Halton Catholic and District School Boards' programs and courses geared especially towards preparing students for a career in IT.

Clockwise from top left: Emily, Vanessa, Leila and Kelly feel right at home in their school’s computer lab.

Courses such as communication technology, engineering and computer science have been gaining popularity in high schools as a way for students to gain the computer skills necessary for employment in IT. A new Communications & Information Technology Specialist High Skills Major program gives students the opportunity to pursue their interests in a technology-based career field while still in high school.

For many girls, it’s high school offerings like these that act as a first introduction to the world of tech. Although female enrolment for these courses generally lower then that of males, each year more girls register and discover their passion for technology.

'You kind of do a little bit of everything, which is nice,' Taylor says about her communication technology course. 'You learn how to use Photoshop®, how to layout programs, use a video camera, edit videos, make films—pretty much everything.'

Left to right: Taylor and Marta demonstrate their computer abilities.

The broad range of subjects covered in a high school computer class is sharply contrasted by the very career-specific learning offered by a SHSM co-op. Taylor found that the joint experience of taking a co-op and her communication technology class helped her to discover her passion for film. 'I wasn't sure if I wanted to do film or design and the co-op really helped me decide that.'

'It just gives a really good inside look into a career in IT and gives you a bit of experience. You get to see what the workplace is really like,' says Michelle.

With this kind of enthusiasm from the girls, it's hard to imagine why the female-to-male ratio for these classes is so low. 'It's probably because they think it’s a guy-dominated thing, that it’s not really in their nature to do something like that,' says Kelly, who wants to go into computer programming.

'When I took it in grade 10,' says Taylor, 'it was definitely more male-dominated. I think there were only four girls. I wasn't completely surprised.'

From left: Riley and Michelle are two of the few female students in the Communications and Information Specialist High Skills Major.

Though identifying the gap in female interest is easy, accounting for it is not. 'I think that a lot of girls automatically assume these are purely computer-based courses, whereas you can incorporate a lot of your own interests as well,' says Taylor. 'I think we should have more classes in high school, so girls can see what it really is.'

There are many different career paths available in the tech industry, but women are still underrepresented. A report by the Information and Communications Technology Council of Canada, published last year, showed that women made up only 25 per cent of people working in information technology—up only three percent since 2002. This is a challenging figure, especially considering that in the same year, overall employment in the industry reached an almost record-breaking high.

However, as more schools introduce programs like the Communications and Information Technology SHSM, girls are becoming more and more exposed to the world of computers, and supposed gender barriers for IT careers are beginning to blur.

While not all Halton schools currently offer the Communications and Information Technology SHSM, interested students may elect to take those courses unavailable at their home school at a neighbouring school. Students wishing to apply to SHSM or to find out more can visit schooltocareer.ca or talk to their school guidance counsellor.



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