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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

In 1995, only 30 percent of Internet users were women in the United States. Today, according to a report by MediaMetrix and Jupiter Communications, they are in the majority. (This is not the case worldwide. In Japan, for example, only one-third of Internet users are women.)

Women approach the Internet in a more practical manner than men, the study found. They use it for such things as health queries, child-care, holiday or financial planning. Another recent study by PeopleSupport found that almost two-thirds of Internet users who shop online more than once a week are women.

While more and more women use the Internet, there is still a real lag in women becoming involved with the IT industry. According to Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age, published by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in July, "As violent electronic games and dull programming classes turn off more and more girls, the way information technology is used, applied, and taught in the nation's classrooms must change."

The report found that less than 28 percent of computer science graduates in the US are women, down from the 1984 high of 37 percent. Only 9 percent of engineering graduates are women. As a result, only 20 percent of IT professionals are women.

"When it comes to today's computer culture, the bottom line is that while more girls are on the train, they aren't the ones driving," stated Pamela Haag, the director of research for the report. "The report makes it clear that girls are critical of the computer culture, not computer phobic," said Sherry Turkle, professor of sociology at MIT. "Instead of trying to make girls fit into the existing computer culture, the computer culture must become more inviting for girls."

In many quarters, there is an automatic assumption that computers represent progress. Computers are seen as an evolution towards a more civilised society. While computers have undoubtedly driven substantial economic growth, they do not by necessity make the world a more 'civilised' place. What is interesting though is how the emergence of the Internet is changing the role of computers within society.

From being a tool that computes, to one that also communicates, the Internet has made computers relevant to the wider society. The implications are enormous. I predicted a number of years ago that the Internet would be a door which women would open in order to play a much greater role both economically and socially.

The Internet is a network and networks encourage collaboration. Women are natural collaborators. The Internet brings to women access to information that was previously difficult to attain. Women have historically spent considerable time at home. The Internet supports their ability to tele-work.

With the ongoing scarcity for IT workers, it makes sense for education strategies to focus on making IT a more attractive environment for girls to concentrate on. It may well be that the powerhouse economies of the next twenty years are those that best tap the huge potential that women offer.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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