Cut IT skills shortage by closing gender gap, say female IT professionals

Leading female IT professionals have warned that UK businesses and the government have a moral and competitive responsibility to address the looming IT skills shortage by bridging the gender gap in the IT industry.

Leading female IT professionals have warned that UK businesses and the government have a moral and competitive responsibility to address the looming IT skills shortage by bridging the gender gap in the IT industry.

Recent ONS figures show the number of women working in the IT industry fell from 27% in 1997 to 21% in 2004, and it is continuing to decline, while just 17% of students starting computer science degrees are women.

A research survey of 1,112 schoolgirls aged 11 to 18, commissioned by Toshiba, revealed that 76% of girls were interested in technology and computers, but 43% would never consider pursuing a career in IT, while 33% were unsure.

At an industry debate chaired by Patience Wheatcroft, business editor of The Times, 11 top women IT prefessionals from the public and private sectors agreed agreed that, in a male-dominated IT environment, “less pushy” women often did not ask for pay rises or promotions when they deserved them.

Women who were not appreciated at work voted with their feet, moving to areas where they they could be creative – and have their input recognised.

Women also lost out on networking opportunities, the experts said. Maggie Berry, UK communications director at Women in Technology, said, “From our networking events, we’ve discovered that there aren’t always enough opportunities for a younger woman coming up through the ranks to talk in a open situation to someone at the top level on an informal basis.”

Flexible working and a work-life balance were also key issues. Sandra Smith, head of IS at Toshiba, said, "The IT industry can be perceived as being 24/7,” but added that skills shortages would make IT departments more expensive to run.

Atos Origin’s head of e-package solutions, Ursula Morgenstern, added, “The IT industry is not about working day and night, but it can be a time-pressured environment. In our industry, the work-life balance is really about mobility.”

Margaret Moran MP, a member of the Parliamentary backbench committee for women and the information technology group, said, “We need to grow the number of women in IT, otherwise the UK's leading position in the IT world will be severely threatened.”

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