A couple of months ago I was asked to speak to several groups of students at a local girls’ secondary school about my experience and career in the IT sector. I was tasked to open their minds to the world of IT and the broader opportunities on offer. But most importantly, I needed to encourage enthusiasm and interest towards this sector for a group of young women.

According to the European Commission, high-tech sectors and enterprises were key drivers of economic growth and productivity in 2015. Roughly, one out of three employees in the high-tech sectors was a woman. However, activities such as computer programming, scientific research and development, telecommunications and corresponding occupations still predominantly attracted more men than women.

Having held the position of head of services at IDE Group for nearly four years and several previous positions in senior IT management, I have enjoyed unique and varied opportunities that many other positions would not have offered. But these opportunities are often overlooked or missed by many students, particularly girls, considering careers in IT.  A lot begins with a person’s perception. As I found with many of the girls I spoke with, a career in IT often conjures the image of an individual plugged into a service desk dealing with a queue of IT related issues.  But IT is so much broader than that.

In an operational role such as my own, integration across a variety of departments is vital.  I am often required to work alongside legal and accounting teams, support new services with training and technology and provide direct client support across a number of service related issues. It can be extremely interactive and rewarding. There are many different types of operational roles too, those which span accounting, legal, or commercial environments, all implementing IT based skills across a variety of disciplines.

A person’s perception, though, is often formed in the early years of a person’s life. A recent study by Microsoft asked 11,500 women between the ages of 11 and 30 in 12 countries across Europe about their attitudes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Girls cited a lack of female role models in STEM as a key reason they didn’t follow a career in the sector, where more than half (57%) said that having a teacher who encouraged them to pursue STEM would make it more likely for them to follow that career path.

I can certainly relate to this. As a 16-year-old student I wanted to go into engineering but was told by my careers advisor that I couldn’t and was alternatively advised to consider catering. But what I had on my side was a very strong and inspiring mother who encouraged my passion and interests. Within a week I enrolled at South Thames College in London on an electrical and mechanical engineering course and I have never looked back. Any person can do anything they want to do, whether a role that has been pre-conceived in a certain light or attributed as being more male or female orientated, it’s about realising your interests and surrounding yourself with inspiring people who recognise that talent and encourage its’ development.

From my perspective, being a woman is often advantageous. Alongside the more ‘academic’ requirements, nurture and development skills are paramount. As is the nature of an operational IT department, we deal with external influences that cannot be measured or guaranteed and we are often called on to avert a crisis or respond to an urgent situation. In these moments, it is important to lead with a level head, to analyse and then apply the knowledge, and utilise the strengths of the team. Part of this too is about learning how to deal with the unique quirks and personalities of individuals, but also recognising and acknowledging mental states that may be preventing a person’s performance. IDE Group is particularly supportive in this respect, providing all its IT management staff with Mental Health Awareness training as a complimentary skills development programme.

Outside of the day-to-day activities, there are many opportunities for travel too. In a previous role as global head of operations, I spent a period of time in Cape Town in South Africa where I was charged to build teams, hire local talent, work with local systems, all while understanding and respecting the local nuances.  This often required a whole arsenal of personal training and development skills to successfully engage with teams in a different market, and primarily all through the power of technology. IT can offer the chance to develop a great number of skill sets when you broaden its application.

For students considering a career in IT, IDE Group offers a variety of IT apprenticeships across marketing, finance, field services, service desk and commercial. Many of these roles involve hands-on training with a customer’s infrastructure which can provide invaluable experience. In terms of qualifications, a candidate should have a basic comprehension of maths and science but beyond this a strong interest in the subject matter and determined work ethic is a must. There have been cases where previous apprentices have trained for just 4-5 months before being offered a full-time role. Although this is not guaranteed, it demonstrates the possibilities when you are focused and determined.

My advice to any young woman who, like myself, has an inclination or interest in exploring IT is to speak to a friend or family member or someone that has your best interest at heart. Believe that you can do anything you set your mind to.  Never say you can’t do something. Just do it.

In the digital world of today, IT is a sector that is continually growing, offering countless opportunities and continually requires new talent that provides a balance of both female and male minds. Could this be you?

For more information on the apprenticeships that are on offer at IDE Group you can visit https://staging.idegroup.com/about/careers/apprenticeships/ or call 0344 874 2020.