Is open source really 'open' to women?

Irenie White, managing director at credativ, tells PCR her thoughts about the misconceptions of women and the IT industry
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Irenie White is operations manager at credativ and finalist in the PCR Woman of the Year event, which takes place in London on October 17th. You can find out more about the event and book your tickets here.

During a recent Stemnet event, 'career speed-dating' at my former stomping ground, Rugby High School for Girls, I was crushed by the lack of enthusiasm for IT. It's a grammar school boasting a strong emphasis on scientific disciplines, yet despite acknowledging that technology is relevant to today's world, the girls just don't associate that with the drudgery of their IT lessons. Whether this is a reflection of the curriculum, the way courses are structured, lack of connection to real-world scenarios, misconceptions about the IT industry - or a combination of all of these... the girls aren't interested. 

I came to know about AWIT when Accredit UK, (the quality standard for IT, which credativ has been working to since 2009), was acquired as a trustmark by CompTIA in 2013. The group, whose aim is to promote the uptake of careers in technology to women and girls, has been a great success across the Atlantic, having grown to over 200 members. It wasn't long before a UK initiative was formed in response to interest.

It's certainly needed. Reports will tell you that IT has a bad image and that the industry is historically a man's world, but you don't need to read the research to see the problem. During my six years at credativ I've done extensive recruitment and, for the roles which required deep technical expertise, I could count on one hand the number of women who've applied.

So far there doesn't seem to be a single answer to the issues, although initiatives have been springing up which seek to break down the stigma, foster interest in schools, and enable less conventional entry to careers in technology. 

On a personal note, I am committed to the challenge of getting more girls on side, both at credativ and through backing members of the Open Source Consortium. I entered this arena with a Cultural Studies degree, which gave me a good grounding in philosophising, but only limited commercial insight. Contrary to any initial fears I might have had about being ostracised as a woman without any specialised technical knowledge in a male dominated environment, I've found it to be accepting and rewarding. From a fairly nonchalant initial association – attending Open Source Consortium meetings; helping organise annual Software Freedom Day events; interacting with Linux User Groups and online forums – I've become passionate about challenging the widely-held misconceptions about this world.

It stands to reason that a business based on innovation, within an industry which is all about ‘open’ systems and 'open' standards, will thrive on having a diverse workforce. Technology companies need creative types to make them stand out in a competitive market; they need those with excellent language skills to keep customers informed, negotiators to help them clinch that partnership or deal, and administrators to help keep internal quality systems up to date.

But there are also benefits to be had from inspiring women, as well as men, to acquire the skills needed for technical roles; technology firms need to take responsibility and think about how they can prepare tomorrow's workforce for the jobs they will need to fill. Many of the skills required aren't taught in IT lessons but are essential to business and transfer across sectors, so to those who aren't considering a career in IT yet I'd say this: even if you don't think you have the skills, but you're a problem solver with an inquisitive mind, there's potential for you to go far in IT.

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