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Cambridge launches mentor group for women tech researchers

Aiming to redress the balance

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The University of Cambridge has set up a mentoring group to support women in IT and computer science research. Women@CL, was officially launched last night at the Roger Needham Award lecture.

The project's goal is to restore balance to the number of men and women in leadership roles in the academic and industrial worlds. Women account for just one in 20 computing professors, one in eight researchers and one in four PhD students. Despite this, more women (33 per cent) than men (22 per cent) report a desire to take on a leadership role.

The group has devised a programme of career development activities including regional and national workshops, mentoring and networking. Later this month Women@CL is holding a meeting in London, where there will be a series of presentations from women engaged in computer science research.

Professor Ursula Martin, of Queen Mary University of London and director of women@CL, says there are plenty of initiatives to encourage more women to study IT at school and at university. But these peter out once you get into post-graduate or industrial research. She points to a "frosted glass ceiling" in the sector. She says that while it is far from unbreakable, it is sometimes hard to see through.

"The aim of our group is at least partially to fill that void: by celebrating, informing and supporting women in the UK who are, or plan to be, engaged in computing research or academic leadership," she said.

"The business case for having diverse teams to tackle these challenges is clear: diverse teams make better progress. But the opportunities for effective, diverse teams decrease when there are too few women in leadership positions."

The project is funded largely by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) but is also backed by Microsoft and Intel's research facilities in Cambridge. ®

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