Shadow IT encourages teenage girls to consider a career in technology

Shadow IT encourages teenage girls to consider a career in technology

More mentors needed for program that lets teenage girls experience working as an IT professional for a day.

A program allowing teenage girls to experience a day in the life of an IT professional has marked its second year.

Early this month, 48 teenage girls joined the ‘Shadow IT’ program of the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT).

The teens spoke to a range of female IT professionals including business analysts, software architects, developers and technicians, product designers, marketing executives and cybersecurity experts.

Edwina Mistry, organiser of Shadow IT and industry and community engagement manager at MIT Faculty of Business and IT, says giving girls exposure to the IT industry will help long-term in increasing diversity in the sector.

A day shadowing professional IT women will make the difference.

Edwina Mistry, Manukau Institute of Technology

Shadow IT comes in the wake of decreases in the percentage of females in the IT industry. The programme aims to show teen girls the reality and opportunities of IT, and to encourage them to consider it as a career, says Mistry.

Mistry says since 2006, the percentage of females in the New Zealand IT industry has dropped from 28 per cent to 25 per cent in 2013, Likewise, women receiving degrees in computer science are down from 16 per cent to 14per cent, and information systems fell from 28 per cent to 19 per cent, says Mistry, citing figures from NZ Census on those two years.

“A day shadowing professional IT women will make the difference,” she adds. “As a result, after Shadow IT finished, more than half the girls said they would be interested in working in IT. That’s how much difference one day can make.”

Wanted: More mentors

“We would like to double the number of girls next year, and for that we need more companies to assist with having a couple of girls for the day, and more women in the IT industry putting their hands up as mentors,” says Mistry.

Shadow IT was cited by NZTech in the report Advancing women as one of the programs needing industry support to increase diversity in the technology sector.

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This year the students worked with female IT mentors from high profile technology focused organisations including Xero, Air New Zealand, Microsoft, HP, Sovereign, Wynyard Group, Orion Health, Dimension Data, Propellerhead and Auckland Transport.

“IT is changing the world, every single day there’s new technology coming out. We need this fresh talent, these girls to bring in their fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Young people are where it’s at – we have to make sure they have exposure to the industry,” says one of the mentors, Marie Gowler, business operations manager at Dimension Data.

I wasn’t actually interested in IT before I came to Shadow IT, but now that I’ve been in a real company I’m actually really interested, particularly in coding.

Brooke Glassie, Epsom Girls Grammar

Mahnoor Luni, 15, from Pakuranga College, says her time at Orion Health changed her perceptions of IT entirely.

Read more: UX expert Caroline Jones: The making of a mentor

“It’s not what I expected – I thought it would be cubicles and people working until late hours. But everyone here is interacting and social, they have lots of activities. It’s been quite exciting and fun.”

“I definitely want to work in a company like this one day, it’s really cool,” she says.

And her thoughts on a career in IT? “I’m definitely more interested now,” says Luni. She originally wanted to study medicine, but says “now I want to do something that combines med and IT.”

One of Mahnoor’s mentors was Nicole Blackmore, a graduate software engineer at Orion Health. She says she only became interested in IT after taking an elective in computer science during her law degree.

“It had never crossed my mind before,” she says. “IT was never properly explained, I thought it was just one type of job – but there are so many different roles in IT.”

Read more: CIO Upfront: Are the advocates and sponsors of IT organisational diversity guaranteeing that it never happens?

She thinks the gender balance in IT will come naturally as awareness of the roles in the industry grows. “It used to be just the computer nerds tapping on their keyboards, but now it’s really open and anyone can do it. It’s really broad.”

Epsom Girls Grammar student Brooke Glassie spent the day at Xero, and came out fascinated by website coding.

"I wasn’t actually interested in IT before I came to Shadow IT, but now that I’ve been in a real company I’m actually really interested, particularly in coding.”

“There’s a lot more to it than I thought,” she says. “I thought there wouldn’t be many people involved, but it was huge. I liked the offices because they weren’t in small cubicles - you could see everyone, you could go up and talk to them, and it’s not so formal.”

Ashley Groves from Howick College went to HP for Shadow IT day. “The experience topped all my expectations of how women work in the IT field," she states. "HP was a wonderful place to show you what it’s like in IT for women. It taught me where I would love to go in IT."

Delilah Singh from Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate went to the annual Ignite (formerly TechEd) conference with Microsoft.

“My experience today was above expectations. Was not what I was expecting but I sure learnt a lot and had so much fun," she says”

Quynh Vo from Aorere College, who went to Sovereign, says, “I got to meet different people working in different areas in IT."

“I got to know their jobs more and that the IT department goes through a lot of processes, from the risk director to the project manager and business analyst to the developer and tester.”

Mistry says the year 10 and 11 students who participated this year came from Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate, Pakuranga College, Waiuku College, Diocesan School for Girls, Papatoetoe High School, Epsom Girls Grammar School, Rosehill College, Howick College, Tangaroa College, Botany Downs School, Aorere College, Glendowie College, and Onewhero School.

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