Microsoft Pitches IT Careers to High School Girls

Female IT leaders tell 11th grade girls that being geeky and getting A's in math aren't prerequisites for a career in technology.

Holding only 27 percent of computer-related jobs, women have never been strongly represented in IT, and recent studies point to a further decline.

The number of computer science bachelor's degrees awarded to women fell from 36 to 21 percent between 1983 and 2006, according to a study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

With computer and mathematical sciences jobs expected to grow faster than any other professional occupation through 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics-which predicts a nearly 25 percent increase-many groups are looking to women to fill the expected employment gaps.

Microsoft aims to stop the shrinking pool of female candidates in technology careers in its tracks by reaching out to high school girls in hopes of showing them a real-world view of IT careers.

The second annual DigiGirlz event, held on March 26 in Islandia, N.Y., was attended by more than 150 11th grade girls from seven schools on Long Island. Presenters from all walks of IT gave presentations on career planning and job roles in areas from law to health care, the public sector and security companies.

Women at the top of the field doled out unconventional career advice to girls in the hopes of dispelling the notion that one must be a geek to work with technology.

"It was a strange twist of fate that I ended up in IT... I got D's in math," said Anne Marie Agnelli, vice president of North American communications and community affairs at CA, which hosted the event.

Other speakers served up encouragement to girls who assumed they needed to go to Stanford University or Massachusetts Institute of Technology to have a successful technology career.

"I went to a two-year community college and then transferred to a four-year school," Corrine Lattell, senior vice president and worldwide services operator for CA, told the high school girls. "You don't have to go to the best school in the world to succeed."

Girls were encouraged throughout the day not to be intimidated if they found themselves to be the only girl in their classes or workplaces one day, as IT carries a strong likelihood of this.

"I'm not going to lie. It is still a male-dominated field, but don't be intimidated. You can talk to them about things, many might share your interests," said Patti Kavocic, program director in Microsoft's Customer Advocacy and Licensing Group.

Others gave practical tips they'd learned from their experiences. "They're going to box you out. Before the meeting, the guys might come in and talk about sports or painting their house and you'll feel invisible. Don't be intimidated. Change the subject," said Sharon Cates-Williams, CIO and commissioner of IT for Suffolk County, N.Y., one of the most popular speakers of the day.

Whether all of the encouragement will suffice to change the interest level in IT careers among girls remains to be seen. Based on the comments of one high school senior, who is about to embark on her IT career, the field still has a ways to go before young girls make a more significant showing.

"The girls at my school think technology is geeky," she said. "They think it's not cool. They just don't see it as something they could do."