Conference aims to reverse downward trend of female participation in technology sector
Ellen MacDonald, the province’s chief information officer, addresses students during the keynote speech at the Women in Technology conference at the College of the North Atlantic’s Prince Philip Drive campus Thursday. — Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram
The hundreds of 14-year-old girls in the College of the North Atlantic’s gymnasium are the next hope to reverse a decline in women’s involvement in the technology industry.
The Women in Technology conference saw 350 area Grade 9 students — and another 35 or so in Corner Brook — spend a day learning about career opportunities in the industry and listening to prominent women speak about their experiences in the sector.
Natasha Hudson, chairwoman of the conference’s organizing committee, said the conference aims to sell the technology sector as an attractive career option for women, she said.
“There’s a shortage in the sector when it comes to qualified people, particularly here locally,” said Hudson, also the business co-ordinator with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries, adding that a lot of local tech companies have positions to fill but are having trouble finding people.
Worse, she noted, is that women make up a smaller percentage of the Canadian technology sector workforce than they did five years ago — from about 35 per cent to about 30 per cent last year, according to Statistics Canada.
“What we’re seeing is ... a downward trend in women choosing the sector as a career choice, so the idea behind this is to let them see that IT is not just programming in a back room or a basement, and that technology companies use the same resources that other companies use, so a technology company needs PR people, it needs communications people, it needs marketing people. So yes, there’s a technical development side to it, but there’s a lot of other exciting things that happen within technology companies.”
She said the conference is one way to help reverse the downward trend.
“What we see is ... a lot of women in lower-management, middle-management positions, but we don’t see a lot of women aspiring to become senior executives or to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses in the tech sector.
“So, from our perspective, to see the downward trend as opposed to the upward trend tells us that the importance of doing things like this.”
Keynote speaker Ellen MacDonald, the province’s chief information officer, told the students — who attended the one-day workshop at the Prince Philip Drive campus of the College of the North Atlantic — that information technology is ever-changing.
“As a woman in IT, I’ve done great things, I’ve been able to go great places, I’ve had really exciting opportunities given to me,” she said. “The opportunities that are there are endless, and the choice is yours to what you’re going to do.”