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Girls and young women are now the most prolific web users...
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Mon Mar 17, 2008 8:18 am Reply and quote this post
...but IT industry needs more women
When 12-year-old Clover Reshad gets home from school, she will have somethingto eat and say hello to her dog Hector. She might shout at her annoyingbrother and watch some television, then she will head upstairs to herbedroom to do her homework. This is when the computer goes on.
“I use the computer a lot. At least a couple of days a week to help with myhomework and I keep an eye on [the social networking sites] Bebo andFacebook every day to see who’s on it,” she said. “I’ll check shops to seeif I can buy things I want cheaper online or to make sure they havesomething in my size.
“I MSN [instant message] my friends. The computer also makes it easy to stayin touch with my dad because he lives in Los Angeles.”
Reshad sees her activity as no different from using a mobile phone ortelevision. It is intrinsic to her life and friendships. “There are a fewgirls at school who don’t use Bebo and Facebook but it’s not because theydon’t want to - it’s because their parents won’t let them,” she said. “I dofeel sorry for them.”
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Reshad’s activity in her bedroom in Godalming, Surrey, echoes that of millionsof girls around the world. New research suggests it is time to rethink thestereotypical net user as a pasty-faced male geek in Joe 90 specs, or thefurtive spotty teen looking for zeppelin breasts online. The most prolificnet users are now girls and young women.
A recent study by the Pew Internet Project in America on teens in social mediafound that blogging growth among teenagers is almost entirely fuelled bygirls, whom it describe as a new breed of “super-communicators”. Some 35% ofgirls, compared with 20% of boys, have blogs; 32% of girls have their ownwebsites, against 22% of boys.
Girls have embraced social networking sites on a massive scale, with 70% ofAmerican girls aged 15-17 having built and regularly worked on a profilepage on websites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook, as opposed to 57% ofboys of the same age.
John Horrigan of the Pew Internet Project says these figures are likely to beechoed throughout the West. “The internet is a very expressive medium andyou’re looking at times in a girl’s life when they are very sociallyexpressive; the internet, and social networking particularly, enables thatneed,” he said.
Figures from the UK back up Horrigan’s hunch. A survey done by Hitwise, aninternet research company, in January found that almost 55% of all Britishusers of social networking websites were women. Similar research by NielsenOnline shows that women aged 18-24 account for 17% of all users of thesocial sites, while men in the same age group account for 12%.
What has caused a phenomenon that one academic has hailed as “the feminisationof the internet”? Are girls really the new cyberpioneers? THERE iswidespread agreement that the prime driver behind the enthusiastic uptake ofthe internet by young girls is their desire to gossip. Activity that used totake place on the telephone, to the frustration of many parents who wereoften hit with painful phone bills, now happens online.
“If you look at young girls, they do more communicating than young boys andthat’s what they are doing on the web,” said Professor Anthony White, alecturer in the school of computing science at Middlesex University. “It’sjust natural for them.”
Few would disagree. Yet to stereotype these girls’ activity as all gossip andfluff would be unfair.
Anna McCleary is the editor of Slink, the BBC’s popular website for 13 to16-year-old girls which receives 1m hits a day. She is constantly surprisedby what catches her readers’ attention.
“I don’t dare to assume anything about the girls that visit the site,” shesaid. “Their interests are amazingly diverse – from dinosaurs to the Foals[a popular indie band]. We’ve had 1,000 unsolicited responses to a piece onfirst-choice schools in the past three days alone.
“What I do know is that we are part of their real lives.”
In this there is an observable difference between the sexes. Even at 12 Reshadhas noticed it.
“Girls use the internet for gossiping and finding things out about friends andpeople you know. Boys use it more for useful things like games,” she said.
Matthew Bagwell edits a website for girls called My Kinda Place and MonkeySlum, a similar magazine site aimed at teenage boys.
“Girls consume online very differently to boys,” he said. “Monkey Slum forumsare just dead; on My Kinda Place the forums are extremely popular. Girlswill browse, take a real journey around the site. Social networking hasreally captured a young female audience.
“I put this down to girls being open to communicating, having longer attentionspans and more widespread interests. We have to be inventive and diverse inour female content. Boys are easier, they will download pictures fromgalleries, viral ads and videos, but they’re in and out again.”
Indeed, the YouTube phenomenon, where users share video material, is stillused more by boys than girls – the Pew report found that they were twice aslikely to post videos online.
Yet women are starting slowly to make inroads. One of the top 50 most popularcontributors to YouTube is Bryony Matthewman, 24, the British artist andgraphic designer who is better known to her millions of fans as Paperlilies.Her video sketches of impressions of damaged celebrity fodder such as AmyWinehouse and Britney Spears have brought a celebrated female face to thesite.
“It is still quite awkward to admit to making videos online as a woman,” saidMatthewman.
“People’s immediate thought of a girl in an online video is ‘porn!’ so it’staking a while to get away from that stereotype.”
However, stereotypes are being thrown away every day in different digitalareas. A recent poll by Game-Vision showed that 30% more women boughtcomputer games in the six months to July 31, 2007, than in the same periodin 2006. The survey also found that there were more female owners ofNin-tendo’s handheld DS console in the UK than men (54% against 46%).
Blogging used to be the preserve of men with obsessive interests in particularsubjects, notably sport, cars and politics, but young women are increasinglyentering this arena.
Kelly Needham, 21, a student in Newcastle, started posting her thoughts onlinein her teens. She said that for her, as for many other young women, the blogwas a means of getting her opinions heard more easily. “It’s a way ofpublishing who you are. In the real world a lot of people are inhibited.They can be more confident online with their opinions,” she said.
“My personal blog gave me a lot more of a chance to express myself. It was themost freedom I ever had.” YET while they are becoming the primary consumersand producers of the internet world, young women are not yet translatingthis dominance into financial gains.
“The majority of people behind the web, who programme sites and create the newtechnologies, tend to be men for whatever reason,” said Matthewman. “Thoseare the people at the back end of the web, who control it and who stand tomake money from it. More women may be using it now but they aren’t makingthe money from it.”
There are, of course, exceptions. In Britain, Martha Lane Fox, the co-founderof Lastminute.com, and Natalie Massenet, who set up the popular shoppingsite Net-a-Porter, have both become multi-million-aires through theirweb-savvyness. But many new internet opportunities in the current so-calledWeb 2.0 era require real IT expertise and in this area women still lagbehind their male contemporaries.

IT industry needs more women
Figures for female enrolment in IT degree courses remain low. While not aspitiful as admissions for engineering, in the 2005-6 academic year there were75,360 British male home students on computing courses at university,compared with 23,370 women, according to the Higher Education StatisticsAgency.
This is a figure that depresses Sarah Blow, a 26-year-old software engineerwho is better known for her popular Girly Geekdom website and blog.
“Even though both my parents worked in IT I was told to look at marketing andlaw by my school careers adviser,” she said. “[But] the message is slowlygetting across to girls that the industry isn’t all about that clapped-outstereotype of geeky guys with glasses.”
Among the youngest girls there are signs that the message is working. A recentsurvey by Tesco, which has a voucher scheme to provide computers forschools, found that from as early as seven years old, girls are beating boyswhen it comes to using computers. The research found that 44% of girls aged7-16 were able to create a networking profile on the internet compared with35% of boys; and 52% of girls knew how to download photographs from theinternet, compared with 44% of boys.
On the computer courses that he teaches at Middlesex University, White saysthat women are beginning to outperform men.
“In actual fact [the courses] are oriented towards what women like doing. Theyjust don’t know that before they enrol. The last time I checked the figures,female students were doing better than men in the courses,” he said.
He also noted that the proportion of female student numbers was improving aswell. “There would not have been any female students doing computing 20-30years ago,” he said. WITH a new generation of young women who have grown upwith computers these figures will surely continue to rise. Yet still thereare entrenched attitudes to be overcome.
Back upstairs in Reshad’s bedroom she is giving her Bebo page another makeoverand uploading more photographs for her father to check out in LA. She saysshe feels comfortable with technology.
“I understand a lot about computers because I spend a lot of time on them,”she said.
However, this does not translate into an ambition to generate the softwarethat is so essential to her life: “Girls are creative, they are more intohistory, English and art – it’s the boys who are more into the techiethings.”



Women in IT





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