Kate's Comment

Thoughts on British ICT, energy & environment, cloud computing and security from Memset's MD

Skydiving past Everest for Computer clubs 4 Girls

I’ve swum with sharks in the Red Sea; I’ve snowboarded at 70 m.p.h at ridiculous risk to body and limb in Canada; I’ve rode my Ducati at over 160mph, but what I did last week was far more frightening.

I became the first woman to tandem skydive past Mount Everest and I was very, very nervous.

It took us about 45 mins to climb from the airstrip at 12,000feet (the highest airstrip in the world) to 29,500 feet (in-line with the top of Mt. Everest), but we were certainly not bored – we were treated to what must be some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Titanic mountain peaks reaching into the sky, wreathed in cloud and wearing heavy coats of snow were all around us, and dwarfing them all was mighty Everest itself.

Five minutes to go, and Wendy (our hugely-skilled, and thoroughly lovely camera-flyer) disconnected me from the plane’s oxygen and put me onto my own personal bottle. At this point I was definitely having trouble restraining my nervousness!

What seemed like moments later, it was time to open the door, and I should have been terrified but for the fact that as Tom, my instructor, pushed it back there was Everest, directly to starboard, thrusting magnificently above the sparse clouds! I had to sit in the door for a couple of minutes, feet dangling over the edge in the freezing 120 mph wind, but that was actually rather nice – it gave me a chance to get used to the rushing sensation and calm a little.

But then, all that calm was shattered as our Swiss-pilot, Rudy, gave the green light and Tom, Wendy and I manoeuvered into the door, and then we were out – AAAARRRGGGHHH!!

I kept my eyes tight shut. Then the air started to support us, and, feeling like I was flying, I opened them to see the most amazing sight of my life.

Within moments the terrifying falling sensation faded though, and I was flying over the Himalayas, falling past Mt. Everest’s snow-clad slopes!! I cannot adequately describe how that felt, but it was without a shadow of doubt one of the most intense, beautiful and amazing experiences of my life.

So what possessed me? Well, I am raising money for Computer Clubs 4 Girls, a national schools programme to encourage 10-14 year old girls to consider the IT industry as a career. Already I have raised over £3,000 so far.

CC4G is a cause I passionately believe in as there is a crisis in IT when it comes to women. The industry trade body of which I am a main board member, Intellect UK (the UK’s IT trade association, of which I am a main board member), says the under-representation of women in IT “remains a significant and worsening issue”. In fact in 2007 only 18 per cent of IT and Telecoms professionals were female.

And research just released by Intellect in their most recent Perceptions of Equal Pay Survey shows that less than a third of women in IT believe their pay reflects their experience and skills respectfully. This is hardly surprising as the gender pay gap in IT is 23 per cent – 6 per cent more than the average in all other sectors.

Another finding shows that nearly 60 per cent of those women surveyed believed that their company did not have a transparent pay structure.

So, as well as campaigning for equal pay for women in IT, I am also campaigning to get pre-teens and teenage girls to consider the opportunities, as there are few professions that can give them such broad access to almost all industry sectors.

It is not just about encouraging the girls towards fulfilling and rewarding careers though. We, the IT industry, badly need them; there is good evidence that companies with gender-balanced management teams are more effective and more profitable, in some cases by as much as 34% on the bottom line (Catalyst, 2005).

Hence the jump. It was really worth it – a fantastic flight, but certainly no flight of fancy. Read about my trip through the Himilayas and see some pictures of Nepal on my Jump Everest blog.

Congratulations also to my friend Holly Budge – the first woman to solo-skydive Everest!

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