The IT industry will have a limited talent pool to draw from, until it moves beyond stereotypes, says Rebecca Holbrough
Stereotypes are often flawed and crude, but many have some foundation in reality. IT has the image of being a male dominated industry – with good reason as only 20 percent of its workforce are women. What’s more, despite the rising demand for technology in commerce and industry, the number of women working in IT is actually decreasing.
Some might say, ‘so what’s the problem?’ If women aren’t attracted to IT, that’s just the way it is. But an industry that fails to attract half of the population is drawing from a severely limited pool of talent and resources. [It is also the case that women in IT get paid 20 percent less than their male colleagues. Campaigns such as Women in Technology are focusing on gender gaps in the workplace – Editor]
Where does it all go wrong?
Our early experiences have a significant impact on our attitudes later in life and it seems that, in this particular instance, the problem starts in childhood. It’s well known that girls favour languages and humanities at school, and this gap continues to widen as they venture further along the path of education.
According to the Office for National Statistics, men are more likely to study for vocational qualifications in construction, planning, engineering and manufacturing technologies (accounting for 89 percent) whilst women are drawn to health, public services and care related vocational qualifications (accounting for 86 precent).
The problem here is, whilst the status quo remains, how are we to attract more women into such a male dominated industry?
Whilst I’m not a fan of positive discrimination, it seems obvious that girls need to be actively encouraged to pursue the more ‘traditionally male’ subjects like IT, the sciences and design. An example of an initiative designed to tackle this issue is the Computer Club for Girls (CC4G), which was developed to encourage girls to improve their technology skills and foster a more positive image of the industry. Originally exclusively for girls, the programme has recently been adapted so that it can be used as part of the curriculum in co-ed schools.
Challenging the stereotype
The IT industry also needs to take a more proactive role in challenging perceptions by becoming more involved in schools, offering careers advice, giving talks and holding Q and A sessions. Providing strong female role models will influence the way that students perceive the industry, whilst encouraging work shadowing, visits to the workplace and technology work placements will enable girls to have practical experience, as well as observing first hand how women can have a successful career in IT.
Many industries are still struggling to come to terms with accommodating the needs of working parents – both male and female – and the IT industry is no exception. The key word here is flexibility. In order to attract working mothers with their range of skills and experience to the workforce, companies need to be flexible. Offering adaptable working patterns such as job shares, the opportunity to work from home and flexible working hours will all attract women – and many men.
If the IT industry really wants to attract more women to its workforce, it will need to take action and make changes. But it’s not all one way traffic: women also need to challenge their perceptions of the industry and make the effort to find out what’s in it for them.
Rebecca Holbrough is a Director of the Symitry North Group, an IT solutions provider which includes Symitry Retail, Symitry IT North and Symitry Business Services. After working in the Post Office for a number of years, Rebecca set up Symitry IT North in 2005. She lives in Leicestershire with her husband and three young children.