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What drove 37,000 women in the UK to abandon careers in IT between 2001 and 2007? Sue Schofield investigates

qsolad-1.jpgSniggering sexism in the IT industry is endemic, but that’s no reason it should be tolerated. In 2007, server manufacturers QSOL.Com re-published an ad first shown in 2000: a photograph of a striking brunette with red lips. The text read: “Don’t feel bad, Our servers won’t go down on you either.” The ad was torn to pieces by feminist commentators, but many men just saw the ad as “genuinely funny”. “I’ve seen stuff like that in men’s magazines,” said one commenter. “Where’s the harm in it?”

In the mid ’80s, US universities kept a close check on the number of women working in IT and were alarmed to see numbers decline year on year. UK universities were also worrying over those figures and, by 1990, women occupied just 30% of all IT jobs. Analysts Gartner quoted depressing figures during a 2007 conference: the number of women in IT, measured as a percentage of the total IT personnel pool, declined from 42% in 1996 to 32.4% in 2004, with no noticeable progress in the number of women in professional or management ranks. By 2008, just 250,000 UK women were employed in IT according to the British Computer Society, a professional body for IT workers. Research published by the BCS in November showed that 2001 was a peak year for women in IT. In the six years following this peak, 37,000 women left the industry. But Ada Lovelace, a 19th Century analytical programmer, is helping to recruit women back into the profession with a proposed annual Ada Lovelace Day, on the 24th March.

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