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EU calls for action as US improves

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The European Commission (EC) is calling for more women to consider careers in the IT industry because the growth in the number of female graduates in relevant subjects continues to fall. But the US is seeing the first signs of a turnaround in declining numbers of people studying for careers in IT.

At a conference in Brussels today, the EC will try and encourage young girls to get involved in the IT industry despite stereotypes that it is a male-only occupation.

It will also highlight the fact that the proportion of women graduating in engineering or computer science remains very low. The EU said: "Although the number of engineering graduates increased significantly across the EU-27 from 150,965 in 1998 to 320,950 in 2004, its yearly growth rate is decreasing exponentially from 60 per cent in 1998 to 10 per cent in 2004."

EU Commissioner for information society and media Viviane Reding said in a statement: "We need to overcome common stereotypes which describe ICT careers as boring and too technical for women, and instead encourage women to succeed in this exciting, innovative and multi-faceted sector".

She also expressed concern that the current shortage of about 300,000 computer scientists and engineers in the EU's 27 member states could impact competitiveness against other parts of the world, including emerging markets such as Asia.

Meanwhile in the US there are the first signs that falling numbers are starting to rise. Applications for computer science courses fell sharply after the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000. The number of computing science majors increased for the first time in seven years, according to a survey from the Computing Research Association.

The IT industry currently contributes a quarter of the EU's total annual growth.

According to EC figures, only 19 per cent of engineering graduates in Europe in 2004 were female. Austria, Portugal, and Poland have seen a significant drop from 1998 to 2005 in female computer science graduates.

The EC, which began a pilot scheme – dubbed the "shadowing initiative" – two years ago to encourage more young women to tackle a career in IT by accompanying a female senior manager during a typical working day, described the current shortfall as a "worrying" situation.

Reding will today extend the EC's plans to help fill the IT job hole by launching a "European Code of Best Practices for Women in ICT", which she hopes will also breakdown some of the stereotypes about working in the industry.

The code is expected to be agreed by the IT sector by International Women's Day (8 March) next year. ®

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