Women in IT: Where are all the female professionals?

Women in IT

The IT sector is ripe with opportunity for talented professionals. As technology has moved to the centre in business, becoming fundamental to how organisations operate, demand for IT expertise has soared. There are many vacancies available for candidates with the necessary skills and experience, and employers are willing to pay a premium for skilled technology professionals.

So with IT professionals having such good career prospects, why is there a shortage of technology professionals, and especially women in IT? The problem has been caused, in part, by the pace of the technology revolution over the last decade or so. Everyone is looking for people to run their technology projects, and this has caught the labour market somewhat off-guard.

But a shortage of entrants to the sector from education is also a problem - despite warnings from within the industry. Not enough young people are studying computing-related subjects at school, and ever fewer are progressing through to university and graduate level. Despite the vast opportunities available for women in IT, students are choosing other career paths.

Is this because of a lack of interest among young people in information technology? Or maybe poor promotion of IT subjects within the education system? Both may be true to some extent. But a quick analysis of the IT industry's gender profile suggests there may be other forces at work, creating barriers to entry for many women in IT to succeed.

Female representation in IT

Essentially, there are very few women in IT jobs in the UK. According to the latest Women in IT Scorecard, published by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and the Tech Partnership, shows that only 17% of the 1.18m IT specialists working in the UK in 2014 were women. In comparison, 47% of the workforce as a whole are female.

Over the last ten years despite significant growth in the number of women in IT roles, up by 19%, over the last five years the percentage of female representation has plateaued.

The female representation within IT occupations varies with one third (33%) of employees working as Web Design & Development Professionals, fewer than one in 10 are in leadership positions, and 4% of software engineers.

Female representation in IT occupations appears to be slightly higher in the UK than the EU(15) average (18% versus 16% using Eurostat data) though lessons may still be learnt from Greece and Ireland where it appears that around one quarter of IT specialists are women.

As the technology sector continues to be challenged by a skills shortage, there is a need to start considering how the overall talent pool can be expanded to meet this growing demand – one way to achieve this is to encourage more females to into the IT sector.

Martha Lane Fox, chair and founder of Doteveryone.org.uk questioning

More girls choosing computing subjects

The future of women in the IT industry is looking brighter with more girls taking GCSE Computing, in fact double the number in 2015. Over one in five of those taking GCSE Computing were female, a 12% increase on last year.

Additional research shows that when girls do take part in computing subjects they actually outperform their female counterparts. BCS Women in IT research found that 76.3% of females who too an IT related full course GCSE were awarded A* - C grades, compared to only 69.2% of males.

Charlotte Holloway, Policy Director at techUK, commented: “Now more than ever companies are looking for reassurances that there is a bright future for the UK’s tech talent pipeline. The number of students studying computing has increased by 76 percent to 62,500 entrants this year, and engineering has also seen an increase of over ten percent. It is great to see that our young people are getting more excited about the opportunities in tech and digital.”

Sara Newman, Operations Director at UK technical consultancy Amido, commented: “Challenging the perception of the IT industry earlier on will mean that as these girls grow up, they will be more receptive to a continuing their education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).”

Current barriers faced by women in IT

Recent Robert Half Technology research of UK IT directors, the two biggest barriers faced by women working in IT are demonstrating their competence (57%) and challenging existing stereotypes (54%). Other challenges include overcoming impersonal/cultural considerations (42%), earning respect (30%) and working in a male-dominated environment (28%).

Surprisingly only 8% of IT directors believe here are no challenges for women in the IT field.

But these barriers are not something that expected to stay forever – there is hope in sight.

IT leaders believe greater parity can be reached

Our research also found that while a fifth (20%) of IT directors say that men will continue to hold the majority of both staff and leadership roles in technology, almost half (47%) see a future where women will reach parity for staff roles. A further quarter (26%) believe women will match or exceed the number of men in both staffing numbers and leadership roles.

Neil Owen, director of Robert Half Technology in the UK commented: “It’s encouraging to see that many businesses are seeing the positives of a balanced workforce and as such, many firms are encouraging diversity among their teams. The insights a balanced workforce can provide in terms of perception, collaboration and problem solving can be beneficial for the overall success of any initiative. The first hurdle to achieving this, as our research suggests, is getting to that stage within the technology industry may take some years. This will require a commitment to  providing female IT professionals the support they need thrive – whether it be through networking opportunities, strong mentorship or training  opportunities  – we need a solution that enables the technology sector to grow the available pool of talent.”

Note: This post was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated with latest research.

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