Top IT firms target women
The initiative, from Microsoft, IBM and Sun Microsystems, is the latest attempt to attract more women into the information technology industry. It is linked to a wider drive by the Government's woman's unit to give women experience in sectors where they are under-represented.
Margaret Jay, minister for women, said recruiting more females into the industry was a crucial way of addressing the IT skills shortage. Women make up just 24 per cent of the IT workforce - a drop of 5 per cent since 1994 - and those in the sector get just 82 per cent of men's pay.
Speaking at a Women in IT seminar last week, Ms Jay said the industry was missing out on enormous potential.
Enticing more women into the sector was a key recommendation of the Skills for the Information Age report released a year ago.
The report said a "high-profile," national campaign to improve the image o careers in computing was "paramount", but 12 months after its publication no such campaign has yet been launched.
Gordon Greaves, of the E-skills National Training Organisation, is attempting to implement the report's recommendations. But he said better information was needed about jobs in the sector. "They (women) are too practical to jump into an industry that is not well-defined."
He agreed that the IT industry suffered from a "nerdish" image and said that giving the sector a "makeover" and giving potential workers a better idea of what jobs actually involved was the most difficult task that his organisation faced.
He also insisted that being able to communicate well was more important than technical skills: "It's more about finding solutions to people's problems than soldering irons."
The IT sector is suffering from a lack of skilled employees and will need another 500,000 workers over the next three years, according to estimates.