This is the first part of a two part feature on female executives.

In CIO magazine’s special report last year on the UK’s 100 largest users of IT, only 11 women featured as heads of IT. Three of those were in the top twenty and one in the top 10. Numerous survey results last year found that not only were few women entering and staying in the IT profession, but that the numbers were actually declining.

For the last 20 years there has been concern about the lack of women in the industry. Gartner predicts that by 2012, 40% of women in the IT workforce will leave traditional career paths.

There are three main areas of concern: The number of women entering the profession is too low; there is a serious problem retaining women who do enter the industry; and there is too little retraining of women who want to return to the industry.

Today the dynamics of business and IT have changed so much that organisations that do not have a sensible gender balance will lose out. “Without women in the mix debates and output in organisations are just not as effective,” says Mark Raskino, research vice president and Gartner fellow. “Male dominated organisations are not as functional as mixed ones. CIOs currently don’t seem to be aware that social networking systems, vendor and portfolio management, and areas like collaborative knowledge work would benefit from typically female capability traits.”

Carrie Hartnell, women in technology programme manager at IntellectUK, thinks there are a number of areas that need to be addressed. “The figures are dismal. The industry doesn’t encourage women to come back to work, there are not enough women in the industry to start off with and the equal pay surveys are horrifying,” she says. “Companies need to be more astute about their values and what they are offering employees. Women in particular choose roles to fit their lifestyles and are setting up their own companies rather than waiting for organisations to change.”

Karen Price, CEO of e-Skills UK, has spearheaded an initiative to encourage more young women into the profession. “We are focusing on the pipeline of young people.

“There are insufficient job applications from women so the focus has to be on improving that. It is a long game. The out of school clubs that we have started are not associated with ICT, which is seen as a boring subject. Social networking is cool; ICT isn’t, so we focus on technology as a tool, with themed subjects that will interest girls, like the environment, charities and music. Teachers have to be in the facilitator role, and the challenge for them is enormous.”

IntellectUK is also working hard to encourage more women into the profession, at all levels, through research and running workshops, meetings and programmes throughout the industry. Hartnell thinks there is a long way to go, and there are not enough women role models in the profession, something the CIO top 100 seems to reflect.