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Is the lack of women enrolled in ICT-programmes a problem?

The Netherlands is lagging far behind where women working in ICT are concerned. With just six percent, we are at the bottom of the list, competing against countries such as Bulgaria (in 33rd place) and Romania (31st). Among the students in the degree programme in Information & Communication Technology (HBO-ICT) at Hanze UAS, there are more sporting hairy chests than nail polish too.

So is the lack of women enrolled in the programme a problem? Not necessarily, according to second-year student Karlien Bijl.
‘I wouldn’t call it a problem, although it is something that needs to be addressed.’ It’s one of the reasons that Karlien joined the PR team. ‘I go to secondary schools to provide information to HAVO students in the final two years.’ Just last week she was at a school in Zwolle. ‘The thing is, I did end up giving a talk to an audience of boys’, she says.

Until midway through the 1980s, the male-female ratio was more or less in balance

Karlien thinks that the poor female attendance is partly down to the way the information sessions are designed.
‘You have to sign up, and the kids can choose between three or four study programmes. That being the case, ICT will seldom top the list, especially not where the girls are concerned, who tend to have preconceived notions about it. It’s better to stage a meeting for everyone. I’m pretty sure that would attract more female attention.’

The recent trend
Lecturer Misja Hoebe is the man behind Django Girls, workshops intended to kindle enthusiasm for technology among women of every background. ‘Until midway through the 1980s, the male-female ratio was more or less in balance’, he stated in an interview with RTV-Noord broadcasters. ‘When the figures reached 65% male and 35% female they levelled off, with the numbers of females in the industry subsequently dropping quickly. The introduction of PCs in the home is a possible explanation. These were emphatically marketed at boys, implying that they were more suitable for them. Which is a load of hogwash of course.’

Women think differently and so do men
Karlien finds it important that both men and women take the degree programme due to the nature of ICT. ‘Men and women think differently. This is reflected by the more caring nature women project compared to men’s somewhat tougher, more practical attitude. It doesn’t surprise me at all that there are relatively more men than women in my degree programme. However, I have indeed noticed that you achieve better results when you have men and women carry out a task together. The men tend to come up with things the women wouldn’t, and vice versa. We’re complementary.’

I certainly don’t need to only work together with women because it will make me feel more at ease

She herself has no need for initiatives like Django Girls. ‘I get why they exist. It can be a bit stressful for a woman to only have men to work together with. I notice this during the information sessions I’m involved in. Many girls think they’ll end up doing a degree programme that nearly only men are taking. This is indeed more or less the case, and that tends to throw them off. My own view isn’t so black-and-white. I certainly don’t need to only work together with women because it will make me feel more at ease. I focus on individuals, not on gender.’

Women on the charm offensive
The Hanze UAS PR team is largely female. This isn’t a ploy to attract more women to the degree programme, according to Karlien. ‘Although the team includes a few men, there are far fewer than women. I think that women are simply more motivated to do something else alongside their studies.’

The days are long gone when programmers and IT specialists wasted away in lonely, windowless rooms

‘Just consider those television commercials that the Ministry of Defence has depicting women doing all sorts of cool things and working in technical jobs. We don’t have that kind of budget, otherwise we would also be able to run a great campaign. But we’re doing the best we can. There’s no lack of interest among young girls. Unfortunately, this often subsides due to all sorts of ideas and assumptions about the degree programme and the professional field. Our job is to appeal to the truly interested boys and girls at as early a stage as possible, and to let them know how much fun ICT and the technical domain can be.’

Working together is not a problem
‘The days are long gone when programmers and IT specialists wasted away in lonely, windowless rooms, lit only by the artificial glow of their computer screens. The DUO offices are a wonderful example, with their beautiful interior design. Lots of windows, and all sorts of desks clustered together where – and yes, it does exist – people are working together at their computers. Things are quite all right these days. And those girls pondering a possible career in ICT? That will certainly work out. In no way should we force anyone, since if they actually are interested, they’ll end up where they should in the end. And that interest certainly exists!’