Reforming the boys' club

The challenge of attracting and retaining women into a male-dominated profession is getting harder and requires dedicated government resource, a women’s panel convened for Enterprise Week agreed.


A pay gap of 23% exists between the genders within IT, 5% higher than the industry norm, according to Gillian Arnold, chair of Intellect's Women in IT group.

"We need more than a part time effort from women campaigners within the industry. To get results calls for fully paid up people and the backing of government resources."

Gillian Arnold, chair of Intellect's Women in IT group

“The pay gap is reprehensible and we should consider the introduction of legislation to address this. I’m also very keen to identify older women who could be encouraged and retrained to enter the profession.”

Claire Curtis-Thomas, MP for Crosby

A techie heavily into computer games, Craig-Wood is keen to entice more girls and young women into IT and to develop their interest from an early age. “There’s a boys’ club that needs to be challenged.”

Kate Craig-Wood, CEO, Memset

“Until I joined Google, I was a victim of the boys’ club mentality and gender pay gap. I’m passionate about changing the perception that it is a male, geeky environment.”

Sarah Speake, head of communications at Google

"Women are going to be a big part of plugging the skills gap and we need to communicate that IT is about far more than designing a web screen –other experience is relevant, too."
Sue Davies, HR director for Sopra

She urged government to supply funds and full-time people to remedy this, rather than relying on the part time efforts donated by women within the industry.

Over the past five years, the numbers of undergraduates studying computer science has dropped by 50%.

Women have something of a double-whammy, finding it hard to enter and remain in a profession that is decreasingly attractive to both genders. The false perception that IT is conducted by bearded men peering into computers has stigmatised IT and is responsible for falling numbers of university applicants across both sexes.

Claire Curtis-Thomas, MP for Crosby, Merseyside, and chair of the All-Party Group on Women in Science, Design and Engineering, said structural problems in the education system need to be remedied in order to convert girls’ interest into careers. She cited her recent visit to a science and technology academy for girls where the teachers had no understanding of relevant work experience that would develop the students’ skills and enthusiasm.

"The girls were great but the teachers were useless. They have a great cohort and extra funds but no understanding of the very world they are meant to be supporting," remarked Curtis-Thomas.

However a career in IT also becomes untenable for women further down the line when they take a career break. If flexible working options aren’t available, many women leave and this can have a cumulative affect, believes Kate Craig-Wood, CEO of hosting company Memset. "A lot of work in IT is solo, and if you’re deprived of women colleagues as well it can be especially isolating," she said.

Longer term, this exodus has implications for the demographics of the IT industry and department. "A lot of female colleagues decide to leave at that stage of their career – and that’s the pool that the future board is picked from," commented Sue Davies, a former mainframe programmer and now HR director of IT services company Sopra.

Similarly at this career point, opportunities gleaned from chat in the pub and the golf course are likely to be denied women. "There is lip service paid to putting jobs up on bulletin boards, but often you have to be in the right place at the right time to receive the offer that," said Arnold.

The nature of the IT world, which often requires long breaks away from home on customer sites also make certain project manager or developer roles impossible for a fulltime carer, pointed out Arnold.

The impact of these obstacles occurring at different career points means that fewer women are entering the profession throughout the entire career lifecycle.

"We’re not getting them in from the bottom and we’re leaching them at the top," commented Sue Davies, HR director for systems integration house Sopra.

"We struggle to recruit women," admitted Davies. "Any applications we get from women tend to be from overseas - we do have females flying in from China from interviews."

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