As the prime minister himself has said, the IT industry is central to the UK economy. However as the government calls for more investment in technology to boost the weak economy, the sector is facing a looming talent crisis, writes Maggie Berry, director of womenintechnology.co.uk.
The baby boom generation has begun to retire and the number of people qualifying with IT related degrees is falling. Women are a key pool of talent yet, according to research by Intellect, between 2001 and 2008 the number of female IT professionals fell by 12% as the number of males increased by 10%.
In the same period, females in IT consistently earned less than their male counterparts, perhaps due to the fact that only 19% of IT managers are female, but almost two thirds of database assistants are women.
So why do so few women hold senior positions in the IT industry? There is no simple answer, but research that womenintechnology.co.uk has undertaken, which surveyed hundreds of female technologists, highlighted a few problems that many women seemed to face in their IT careers.
When asked if they thought that being a woman has an impact on their career, 60% believed that it makes it harder succeed, with many commenting that women are judged more harshly and held to higher standards.
Maternity leave and family responsibilities are also cited as reasons for women leaving the industry or failing to achieve promotion. 88% of women agreed that more should be done to encourage women to return to their technology careers after a maternity leave.
Due to the fast pace of the industry, confidence in their abilities can be lost during the break: "I've got two kids but was just 12 weeks not working. The nine months before - and even 12 months after - the birth, my company showed no interest in me and I got only the jobs no other wanted. It took me three years to show that I'm still 'in the game'" said one respondent.
There were many other issues brought up, like the importance of mentoring and the stereotypes which often prove detrimental to women and their role in the workplace.
Most of these problems are ones that are not easy to overcome but things like support groups, mentoring and more visible female role models are all ways in which the situation can be improved. Other than by working hard, seeking training and supporting their female colleagues, it can be hard for women to find ways to overcome these challenges.
For this reason, womenintechnology.co.uk is holding a free one day event called W-Tech in association with the BCS as another way for women to empower themselves and progress their careers. For women at all stages of their IT careers, the event will hold workshops on issues like how to behave in an all male team and political savvy and provide an opportunity to network and question a panel of successful female technologists.
It's a complex situation that cannot be solved overnight, both in the technology sector and in the wider business world. But with the new Equality Bill coming in soon and events like W-Tech, we're moving in the right direction.
This was first published in May 2009