IT needs women

At a time when the IT sector is expanding rapidly, Europe is experiencing a shortfall of about 70,000 skilled IT workers. This problem isn’t helped by the fact that the industry still has an image problem when it comes to attracting and...

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At a time when the IT sector is expanding rapidly, Europe is experiencing a shortfall of about 70,000 skilled IT workers. This problem isn’t helped by the fact that the industry still has an image problem when it comes to attracting and retaining women in the sector.

It would, of course, be wrong to say that women are entirely unrepresented in IT. In my 10 years of recruiting at management and director level, I have met some talented and well qualified women who have progressed into senior positions.

A female presence in the management team can bring a different and valuable dimension to development and leadership, so how can businesses ensure that the number of women reaching for promotion increases?

Business success is, of course, dependent on appointing the best people, regardless of gender, but many employers still see only a small representation of female applicants in the technical recruitment process.

A 2010 report, "Women in IT Scorecard", suggested that women are increasingly concentrated in jobs at the low end of the pay scale, making up only 14 per cent of IT strategy and planning professionals, but nearly 60 per cent of database assistants.

Fortunately, IT is starting to change its image. At a consumer level, technology is no longer the domain of men, and young women are easily as IT literate as their male peers. And, as the world of technology continues to move forward, the new generation of ‘digital natives’ - those who were born into a world with the technology that we had to learn to use as adults - is likely to develop a more gender neutral perspective on the industry.

Any gradual increase in the numbers of women coming into the technical side of IT is likely to start a virtuous circle. The status quo is certainly due for a revamp, and fresh input from a female perspective will be instrumental in effecting the change and refusing to accept the remnants of any outdated attitudes that may remain. These new female role models will be able to play an important part in dispelling the image of the male ‘geek’ and encouraging more young women to study IT at university and to take their first step into the sector.

This effort can start a long time before graduate level. By demonstrating how dynamic, innovative and exciting IT can be, and by emphasising the ways in which it impacts on businesses throughout the UK and beyond, schools have an opportunity to encourage more girls to embrace IT from an earlier age.

More females are now studying science, engineering, technology and mathematics, often performing better in GCSE and A Level exams than boys. But still fewer than 30 per cent of all women graduates who study these subjects, of which only 7 per cent are technology, actually go on to work in these occupations, in comparison to 50 per cent of males.

The reasons for this needs more exploration but perhaps now is the time for employers to start working alongside students to promote technology, and encourage more young women to move into a technology environment.

Catherine Doolan, senior consultant at IT executive search specialist, RMG

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