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Network Rail reveals results of competition to help women into tech

Network Rail has detailed how the winners of its 'Could IT Be You?' competition to encourage more young women into technology careers plan to move forward.

The competition, launched in October 2013 after Susan Cooklin, the rail infratsructure provider's CIO, raised concerns about the rapid slide in the number of women entering the UK's IT sector: the company quotes e-skills UK data that shows the proportion of women working in technology roles in the UK has more than halved since the 1980s, despite technology becoming an increasingly integral part of our everyday lives, for example.

The company's own data backs this up: a survey for Network Rail of 16-24 year old women in Britain revealed 64 per cent ohave not considered a career in IT, while 28 per cent had but were not currently working in the industry.

Meanwhile, "negative stereotypes" had put 10 per cent off pursuing a career with a further 41 per cent said they had received what they perceived as inadequate career advice or little insight into the industry.

In terms of accessing IT as a job, for these women 58 per cent believe a high level of technical expertise in computer programming or coding is the most important skill for a successful career in IT, while 23 per cent thought a degree or college qualification in a technology subject was most important: only 4 per cent thought good project management skills were the most important and only 7 per cent cited good communication skills as the most valuable skill to come into the profession with.

'Variety of roles'

In the end some six teenagers were chosen as winners, spending two weeks of paid work experience in the organisation earlier this summer shadowing Network Rail's IT managers, attending meetings and seeing how technology helps run Britain's railway, which carries more than 4m people and hundreds of tonnes of freight a day.

They also visited signalling centres, stations and the National Records Centre, which holds over five million historical records including original architectural drawings by 19th century railway pioneer Brunel which are still used today by 21st century engineers.

Talking about their exposure to the world of business IT, 18 year old Hannah Blair rom West Wickham in South London, one of 'Could It Be You?''s runners up, noted: “It was interesting to see the different types of technologies working together and it really helped to open my eyes to what a complex operation Network Rail undertakes daily.”

Another runner up, 17 year old Dani Ball from Nottingham, added; “The thing that surprised me the most was the variety of roles available."

The competition's overall winner, 17 year old Zoe Moore from Towcester in Northants, said, "One of the most unusual things we got to see was all the historical railway records at the National Records Centre in York, the oldest of which was from 1509. One particularly special document contains Florence Nightingale's signature from a land deed. Where else do you get to see that?”

Moore won the top prize, which was the work experience plus all of her first year at University's fees being paid for by Network Rail.

Incorrect perceptions?

"Popular culture has helped create a perception amongst young women that a career in IT is all about writing code in basement offices – the reality couldn't be further from the truth," said Network Rail CIO Cooklin.

"All these girls have shown a creative mind for solving problems and good communication - and these are the skills that business leaders are after. Everyone in my team is thrilled to be able to showcase how much technology there is on the railway and hopefully inspire them to become technology gurus of the future."

And how is Network Rail doing itself in the gender imbalance picture that seems to keep dogging the IT sector? It says that in the five years from 2008-12, the percentage of women in IT roles at Network Railgrew from 26 per cent to 28 per cent - but that only 20 per cent of those applying for the company’s information management graduate scheme were female.

The 2014 version of 'Could IT Be You?' will be launched in September, with the same top prize of the first year of university fees payment for the winner plus paid work experience for all finalists.

A new website will accompany the launch, but those interested can keep up to date on what's happening by following the team @couldITbu14 monitors all leading technology stories and rounds them up to help you save time hunting them down.