Kate's Comment

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

eSkills Scorecard: Numbers of women in IT still falling

As a child, I fondly remember my Dad telling me how we lived in the same village (Horsley) as the world’s first computer programmer, a British woman called Ada Lovelace. From those illustrious beginnings, in Britain today, women now account for only 11% of IT professionals working within the IT industry, according to the Women in IT scorecard.

The Women in IT Scorecard, a partnership project by BCS, BERR, e-skills UK and Intellect, has been updated with figures for 2008. These are some of the figures I have taken from it:

  • Overall numbers of women in IT occupations have dropped from 24% in 2002 to 19% in 2008.
  • Only 11% of IT professionals working within the industry are women.
  • Women in IT occupations outside the IT industry account for 25%.
  • Men in IT are paid up to 30% more than women in IT.
  • The number of girls taking A-Level Computing has fallen from 13% to 9% in the last five years.
  • Girls do better than boys in GCSE and A-Level Computing and ICT.

Women are leaving the sector in droves thanks to massive pay discrimination and pervasive sexism. The situation is further worsened by the fact that fewer-than-ever girls are taking computing or ICT at GCSE & A-Level despite being better at the subjects than boys!

As I recently stated in my FT article ‘Why IT skills need to be sold to girls’, the technology sector promises to be one of UK PLC’s routes out of recession and a future engine of economic growth, however it is being hamstrung by a lack of women. There is plenty of evidence that a good gender balance makes teams and companies perform better.

Government needs to take this issue very seriously, and must take action to prevent the technology sector being severely harmed by the lack of women. We have been trying to “tweak” things in this area for years, but numbers are still falling. Therefore, I advocate a number of changes, some with large scope:

Actions: Employment law

1) Address the massive gender pay gap in IT (30% in the 40-49 bracket 14% for 16-29 year olds), through mandatory, publicly published pay audits for large companies as is the case within the public sector.

2) Career breaks do hold people back, therefore bring equality to maternity leave (12 months) and paternity leave (1 month) so that women can at least have the option to get the husband to stay at home.

3) Remind companies that “positive discrimination” specifically means hiring someone because of their gender, not just trying to help a minority group advance their careers. For example, ensuring there are a certain number/percentage of women on all candidate shortlists is acceptable (and helps!).

Actions: Education

5) Encourage more girls into computing, or at very least science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects at school. 80% of my technical staff have hard science/maths degrees despite being IT professionals, so I think STEM is a good place to start. Build on initiatives like BigAmbition.co.uk – try promoting it on Facebook targeted to girls for instance!

6) Most ‘computing’ degrees are hopelessly irrelevant and out-dated even before the students start them. Equally, ICT & computing GCSE’s and A-Levels are becoming laughably easy (and more about using IT than how it works), and are not challenging for the bright young people that we need to be studying them. Apparently the good GCSE courses are out there, but teachers don’t select them because they are challenging!

7) There is nothing like an inspirational teacher to get make a child passionate about a subject, but many GCSE IT teachers (in particular) appear to have limited subject knowledge and do not sell IT well. Therefore, encourage more technology graduates towards teaching.