Girls in IT

Women in Technology (WIT) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the professional development of women in IT. Its biggest committee, Girls in Technology, supports academic and community programs that engage girls in technology- and computer-related learning.

Marla Ozarowski, whose day job is director of technology adoption in the IT organization at Freddie Mac, chairs the program, which she has built into the most active at WIT. She talked with Computerworld's Kathleen Melymuka about her work with girls.

Why is it still difficult to generate interest in IT among girls?

Kids use computers every day, as a social tool with IM and e-mail and as a homework tool with search engines and research sites. Computers are basically a means to an end. However, there's a stigma attached to the technology behind computers. Girls show equal aptitude and interest in math and technology in the elementary grades, but starting in middle school, social factors begin to interfere. They view IT as "nerdy." Plus, for reasons not well understood, girls begin to question their abilities in technology-related areas. They seem to become socialized that computers, like cars and machinery, are "guy things".

Are there certain IT career paths or IT skills that are particularly attractive to girls?

For girls who are creative and artistic, Web development and graphic design may be of interest. But in general, all areas of technology can be attractive when positioned properly. What I tell girls, including my own daughters, is that no matter what their personal and career interests might be, they need to develop a sound understanding of, and appreciation for, computers and IT, because computers will touch every aspect of their lives.

Has the recent economic downturn and all the news about outsourcing and offshoring made your challenge tougher?

Though young people are clearly concerned with the economy and availability of jobs in the future, they believe that they can be anything they want. The trick is to get them hooked on IT early and develop a sense of the many doors that IT will open for them in the future.

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