AN inability to attract young women to IT&T and to retain and retrain older women is one of the most complex factors contributing to the current skills shortage, and one of the topics about which I receive most emails.A University of Technology Sydney study by researcher Amanda Elliot shows less than 20% of computing students in Australian universities are female and as little as 12% in some. This is part of a worldwide trend-in the US, fewer women are completing undergrad degrees in computing than 10 years ago, and in the UK, enrolment of women in IT courses has halved since 1970. And of the estimated 300,000 computer professionals in Australia, only 20%-60,000-are women.

This declining participation of women in IT&T is alarming, according to Senator Kate Lundy, shadow minister for sport, youth affairs, and assisting on information technology.

“For the economic rationalists and misogynists, there are as many dry arguments for investing significant resources into ensuring more women choose IT as there are philosophical arguments of equity,” she says.

“Australia’s trade deficit in information and communication technologies is ballooning and will grow from $6 billion to $46 billion within 5 years if left unchecked. We need to support our own IT&T industry and create jobs here.”

Part of the answer is in attracting young women, wooing back older ones who’ve left and encouraging non-IT women to change careers, according to Ann Moffatt, head of Technology Solutions and founder of Females in IT&T.

“If we could get the number of women in IT&T to 30% – 90,000 – instead of the current 20%, we’d kill the skills shortage.”