It would be hard *not* to know that Microsoft held a Women in IT function at Tech Ed Australia this year… What some might not know is that the Women in IT event is something that we have hosted at Tech Ed Australia for the last 3 years now. I have had the fortune to be involved with this event here in Australia & Tech Ed North America previously and am proud to now own this event at Tech Ed Australia, both last year and once again this year.

Why am I involved in running a Women in IT event at something like Tech Ed? In Australia, women comprise between 15 and 25 per cent of ICT employees and the number is decreasing. The number of females studying IT related subjects is dropping…

Earlier this year, we ran an DigiGirlz event for 120 female high school students and it became blatantly apparent that almost half of them were unaware of what a career in IT entailed, and the many options available. As one attendee expressed “the day gave us a really good insight in the industry and let us know it is not just ‘computer geeks’ that do IT”. Another also added that the DigiGirlz day “opened my eyes to the technology opportunities available for women, I learnt lots of things about the IT field I hadn’t learnt before.” As a result of the event, over 50 of the attendees had changed their mind about the possibility of working in IT.

It was after this event that I decided that the key to encouraging more women to work in the IT field was via education! We needed more students to be aware of the potentially engaging, challenging & rewarding careers available in our field. But how can we get the message out there?

At last year’s Tech Ed we challenged each attendee to go back into their local communities and make a difference by helping, encouraging and supporting at least 1 woman working in IT, or that could potentially work or study IT.

It turns out that many did! So this year, at our Tech Ed Women in IT function, we called out the work that these great men & women have done with the Women in IT Community Contributor of the Year 2010 award! We had many nominees that included senior ICT board members, a school teacher, a university lecturer, several students, a Microsoft Student Partner and an Microsoft Valued professional (MVP). People like you and I, making a difference in their own way, in their own communities.  We received nominations for both men & women. A big heartfelt thanks to each and every one of them.

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Top 5 Finalists:

Congratulations to each of the 5 finalists (in no particular order) listed below:

Miriam Hochwald

Miriam founded Girl Geek Coffee clubs which helped to foster relationships, networking and mentoring over a relaxed cup of coffee. The group may engage in forum discussions, faculty advice, and industry insights. The greatest emphasis is forming 'connection' and 'support' amongst females.

Jenine Beekhuyzen

Whilst completing  her doctorate, Jenine has been actively promoting the update of technology to young females within schools (by doing presentations in classes) and also by being one of the volunteer organisers for the annual Technology Takes You Anywhere event. She also completed a 2nd print run of another 10 000 copies of her book Tech girls are chic, not just geek books  which to date has had 13 000 books distributed. Along with Bronwen Zande (also nominated)  is a co-organiser of the Brisbane Girl Geek Dinners.

Raina Mason

Raina consistently pushes the concept that IT is an industry for people regardless of gender and has grown the proportion of women studying IT at Southern Cross University (SCU) well beyond the norm for an Australian University. Her willingness to engage with industry and students with the same vigour as well as her devotion to her university's success at promoting IT to girls considering IT as a career, has proven itself by these impressive numbers. Recruiting women into IT, even studying IT, is a massive challenge, and Raina has pushed at the perception that IT is a "guy thing" until it popped. She does this not just at university but by visiting local & rural schools, running Women in IT days. These involve talking to year 10 careers classes and informing them of the multitudes of careers in IT and the alternative pathways to getting into a career in IT. They then also take groups of interested girls and spend a day teaching them a programming language (Alice) and also teach them how to program Lego mind storm robots. Raina was responsible for the University Q & A room at the Microsoft DigiGirlz event where students could ask her and other University representatives their many questions about potentially studying IT related courses at university.

Chris Betcher

Chris is a (male) teacher who is phenomenally passionate about technology and shares his passion with other teachers on a regular basis. He encourages his students to consider the impact IT will have on their future and the possibilty and range of careers available to them in the IT sector outside what they may traditionally consider.

Bronwen Zande

Bronwen has been an strong advocate for Women in IT for some time. She is the founder of www.girlgeekblogs.com, she was key in bringing Girl Geek Dinners to Brisbane. She also has presented world wide at other Girl Geek Dinners. Bronwen contributes to the annual Technology Takes You Anywhere event – yet again this year for the 3rd time. This year she taught the 500 students aged between 8 and 15 about Natural User Interfaces and the Microsoft Surface.  Bronwen also travelled to Sydney to help with the DigiGirlz event run at Microsoft in March.

A big thank you to each of our 5 finalists for this great work that they do. Each finalist wins a Wine Gift pack thanks to CSU & IT Masters, as well as a Laptop bag from Geek IT.

<drum roll……>

The Winners Are:

image The Community Contributor of the year award for 2010 was awarded to Raina Mason for the work she does to increasing the number of females studying ICT related subjects at Southern Cross University through her WIT@SCU program, as well as her projects in Rural Australia where she works to educate students as to the benefits of a career in IT.

Runner Up this year was Jenine Beekhuyzen for her work presenting directly to over 2000 students in class promoting careers in Technology while she herself completed her doctorate. She is also a key participant in the annual ‘Technology Takes you Anywhere’ event. Her book ‘Tech Girls are Chic, not just Geek’ has had over 13,000 copies distributed so far predominantly to high school students.

Thanks to Mary Henderson, CEO of Geek IT for her insightful thoughts shared as the event Keynote.

Once again, I want to thank each of our nominees for their great individual contributions as each one of them makes a difference. I hope next year to have even more people to congratulate!

Award Winner Raina has already found that winning this award has given “greater visibility to our program. It's important that people know what we are doing, particularly with our local schools program, and the planned remote school program”. She goes on to say that “there are amazing initiatives going on all over the place… and as word gets out, others will be inspired to see what they can do to support and encourage women in IT, and make a difference.”

I now challenge each of you to “be the change you want to see in the world” (Ghandi) and next year the Winner could be you...