Worldwide initiative tracks women in IT

Goal is to address declining numbers of women in technology fields

A new online initiative promoting women in IT follows the lives and careers of women in technology jobs across every continent -- including Antarctica -- through an online diary format and photo album.

Entitled "Doing IT Around the World," the initiative followed 36 IT women role models around the world on Aug. 11 from where the sun first rose in Oceania and Antarctica to where it last set 44 hours later in Hawaii.

Aug. 11 was chosen because it was the day that a patent was granted to Hedy Lamarr for her co-invention of spread-spectrum broadcast communications technologies, which form the basis of modern wireless communications.

The women were chosen from a wide selection of ages, industries and technology areas -- from a communications technical officer in Antarctica to the director of a sub-Saharan ICT (information and communications technology) provider -- with each providing an image rich "Day in the Life of ..." diary describing their work and passion for technology.

The aim of the initiative is to address the declining numbers of girls and women taking up technology studies and help stem the tide of women leaving the IT industry by offering real-life examples of the multiple career paths and geographic locations to which a career in IT can lead.

The "Day in the Life of ..." diaries followed women in Antarctica, Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Job roles included chief technology officers, information management specialists, open-source advocates, and experts in sales and marketing, data mining, governance, Web design, graphic art, instrumentation design, computational biology, microelectronics, molecular biology, medical and legal technologies and more.

Sonja Bernhardt, founder of the initiative and owner/CEO of software development company ThoughtWare Australia, explained that Doing IT Around the World features women from a broader definition of IT that includes high-tech and medical fields.

"We don't just mean traditional information technology; we mean innovation technologies; bio-informatics, science technology and also people that are into new media like blogs and digital video," she said. "We've extended IT to mean anybody that uses technology as an underlying infrastructure in an innovative way."

While the women come from many different industries, countries and age groups, Bernhardt said they are all linked by their passion for technology and one other common trend: "Aside from the fact that they absolutely love what they do, the only thing that's the same for all of them is as soon as they get up in the morning, the first thing they all do is check their e-mails!"

The Web site also hopes to act as an educational tool for schoolchildren considering a career in any high-technology field.

Web 2.0 and social networking tools played a key role in making the initiative possible, as professional social networking sites like LinkedIn and voice-over-IP technologies allowed Bernhardt to find and communicate with the featured women freely, without the need to travel all over the world.

"Many people are just playing with these tools for fun instead of realizing that you can have a global project that basically costs nothing, by using all of the social networking tools, collaborative Web databases and content management systems to connect in a seamless way."

Bernhardt is also the co-founder of Australian Women IT and Science Entity (AWISE) and has led a number of initiatives aimed at attracting and retaining women in IT; including IT's Million Dollar Babes awards, the Screen Goddess calendar, and sponsoring the Tech Girls are Chic, not Just Geek book.

This story, "Worldwide initiative tracks women in IT" was originally published by Computerworld Australia.

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