Germany is in dire need of skilled labor, especially in the IT industry. Since women are underrepresented, the industry wants to hire more women. But so far, few even start IT degrees.
Andrea Reichelt is an extraordinary woman. Or rather, she's a woman in an extraordinary environment. She heads a medium-sized IT company, and is one of very few women in Germany to do so. Only 15 percent of those employed in IT companies in Germany are female - when it comes to leading positions, the figure is just three percent.
Even at university, Reichelt found herself more or less the only woman in an all-male environment. She studied to become an engineer, and of the engineering students, only five percent were female. But Reichelt never felt disadvantaged.
"To be honest, I saw it as an advantage. You stand out as a woman among all men, and you get more attention. That can be positive, too."
Women-only information technology
It's a feeling Franziska Preiss doesn't know - or doesn't know yet. She is in her second semester of studies at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. In her degree program, it's women only, as Franziska is enrolled in an all-women-program in information technology. It's one of only three degree programs like that in Germany. If there had been no alternative, Franziska would have enrolled in a co-ed program, but she preferred the program at the University of Applied Sciences.
Like many other young women, she had her qualms about having to compete with male students when enrolling in an IT program.
"I thought the guys probably know more than I do because they will have spent more times at the computer than I have. So when it's women only, that takes the pressure off things."
It's the pressure that's the problem, says Franziska's professor Juliane Siegers. Many young women think they can't keep up with their male colleagues. And that's despite the fact that most IT degrees start from scratch, and anybody interested in the subject can keep up without much previous knowledge.
Another problem is that IT programs simply have a bad image, says Juliane Sieger. There was this image in people's heads of some nerd sitting in front of the computer day in and day out, ordering and gobbling up take-away pizza. It couldn't possibly be course content in and of itself that put people off as similar programs, like maths, have up to 50 percent female students, Sieger points out.
"There's a great barrier of entry into IT degree programs. Usually, after one year of studies, women in our program know what it means to study IT and feel confident enough for co-ed studies," says Juliane Siegers. That was why only the bachelor degree program is for women only, while the master's program was co-ed.
For her part, IT company boss Andrea Reichelt can only recommend for young women to take up IT studies at university. She believes that an increasing number of companies in the field will want to hire women. In her company, she says, there are almost as many women as men. It's important to Reichelt to make use of the potential of both men and women, and also to enable employees to contribute to shaping the company. Reichelt believes that in many other fields, that's impossible. "But IT is a growing industry, and it's getting more important." In growing companies and industries, she adds, it's easier to get involved and to have a sense of fulfilment.
Author: Greta Harmann / ar
Editor: Nicole Goebel