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Academy-Industry Partnerships to Bring Women to IT

Alka Harriger and Gail Farnsley
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Alka Harriger and Gail Farnsley
These days, it is difficult for anyone to argue that a gender gap exists in the information technology (IT) industry. In the early 1980s, the ratio of male-to-female student enrollment was close to equal. Today, the nationwide female enrollment in most computing programs varies between 5 to 20 percent of the total.

Why should anyone care that a gender gap exists in IT? Given how ubiquitous IT has become across many facets of the society, including only one gender when designing IT solutions could yield outcomes that are less appealing to the excluded gender. Recall the result when air bags first came to the market – they were found to be fatal to women drivers: The all-male design team failed to take the generally smaller size of women into account while designing.

Although the gender gap is a significant problem, it is also creating an ideal opportunity for the academia and the industry to forge partnerships that not only address (and solve) this problem, but create unique, collaborative programs that benefit all parties. This paper will share some examples of these partnerships and the benefits they bring. In each of these solutions, the reader should keep the following points in mind:
* Despite high levels of unemployment, IT continues to enjoy job demand. Several IT-related jobs appear on the top 20 list of the US Department of Labor’s predictions.
* Women want a career to benefit society, but few believe that computing does that.
* Female college freshmen often don’t realize the value of mentors.

Industry Reaching out to Academia

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