Page last updated at 08:33 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 09:33 UK

Girls geek out over dinner

Digital Planet
Angela Saini
BBC World Service

Sarah Blow, founder of Girl Geek Dinners (Credit: Cristiano Betta)
Sarah Blow wants to change the male-dominated culture (Credit: Cristiano Betta)

A group of women who define themselves as 'girl geeks' are trying to encourage a greater female presence in the technology industry by arranging Girl Geek Dinners across the world.

Technology conferences can often be all-male affairs and in some countries the technology industry employs very few female workers.

Digital Planet's reporter Angela Saini, attended their most recent meeting at the offices of Microsoft in London.

The idea behind the dinners is to change what some women in technology feel is a very male-dominated culture.

According to a recent survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, women make up just 7% of the IT workforce in the UK.

"Trying to attract and retain females in the IT industry is very difficult," Sarah Blow, the founder of the Girl Geek Dinners, told the BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"Not because they're awkward people to employ, but because they're actually very good - they're a minority and people are after them.

"It's the idea of different people and the mixing of minds that actually entices people to want to employ women as well as men," she added.

Taking over

The events create an opportunity for women to get together and talk about all things technical, from the latest software developments to video games.

The idea is spreading fast and there have already been girl geek dinners as far apart as Italy and Australia.

Women attending a Girl Geek Christmas party (Credit:Cristiano Betta)
Girl geek dinners are organised as far apart as Italy and Australia (Credit:Cristiano Betta)
"It started off with just London, we did our first one in August 2005," said Ms Blow.

"People started saying I'd like to organise a girl geek dinner in this location - I give them the format and say these are the rules, go and have some fun with it," she added.

The latest place to catch the bug is France and Kate Bourdet is organising the first dinner in Paris.

"I grew up in the United States and out of all my girlfriends, I'm the only one who works in IT," she said.

"I was told growing up that I wasn't going to be very good at maths or science because I'm a girl and was pushed into more of the liberal arts area," added Ms Bourdet.

"But if you looked at my testing scores, I always tested higher in mathematics," she said.

A survey commissioned by Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the Blackberry phone - found that only a quarter of girls have considered a career in technology compared to more than half of boys.

It also showed that over two thirds of girls aged 11 to 16 believe that the UK lacks smart female role models in the technology industry.

One of the boys

"In the early days of computing there was this kind of great hope that as a new industry there would be less gender barriers, particularly for women," said Dr Elisabeth Kelan from the London Business School, who has researched gender stereotypes.

Being girly, fashionable and being pretty feminine didn't work
Julie Lerman
"There were lots of women who were early programmers because at this time software was seen as something that is not the real thing - hardware was the real thing.

"Lots of women were mathematically trained to do that but over time, software became something that is associated with geeks and nerds and being very male connotated," she added.

Julie Lerman, an IT veteran of more than 20 years had to alter the way she looked to blend in with the boys.

"I changed the way I dressed and I changed the way I behaved for many, many years," she said.

"Being girly and being fashionable and being pretty feminine didn't work very well when I was trying to participate in events where there was a lot of programmers because there weren't a lot of women.

"Now there's more and more women who go to conferences and just finding each other at these dinners is just a saying hey, you understand my life a little more than other people I work with," she added.

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