Since Computer Weekly launched its list of the most influential women in UK IT in 2011, the number of initiatives championing and encouraging women in technology has grown enormously. Through schools, universities, recruiters and employers, many programmes are now in place to try to address the IT diversity gap that most obviously manifests itself in the proportion of women in the sector stubbornly remaining around 16%.
It’s a frustration widely shared that all those efforts still make so little substantive difference to improving the gender bias inherent in tech sector employment.
So for this year’s survey into IT diversity, conducted in partnership with Mortimer Spinks, we wanted to answer the question: Where are all the women? We wanted to find out where in the country, and in what types of organisations, women are bucking the general trend – we hope this might help to focus the minds of industry leaders into targeting areas most obviously in need of improvement. This is what we found:
Let’s start with some good news for the future – there is a noticeably higher proportion of women among those working in tech for five years or less. Just over 30% of our female survey respondents have been in a tech job for less than five years, compared to 19% of men.
Compare that to the more experienced part of the IT workforce, where 70% of men have been in tech for 10 years or more, against just 45% of women.
You can, of course, put a negative or a positive spin on those numbers. While they suggest that more women are entering the profession now than in the past, it could also show that women fail to stay the distance and are put off by a career that fails to offer enough help for mothers returning to work – after all, 43% of the female respondents said that having a child harms their careers prospects in IT.
It’s fair to say that IT and telecoms suppliers have in recent years been among the most vocal supporters of women in tech – but our survey shows their words are not necessarily turning into action.
Women are less likely than men to be employed by a tech supplier – 19% of our female respondents work for vendors or IT services firms, compared to 25% of the men.
There is a perception that emerging web and digital companies are a lot more likely to attract a female workforce, but our survey doesn’t really bear out that claim – the figures are close, with 18% of women and 16% of men employed in digital firms.
Perhaps the male-dominated perception of the IT department is slowly changing too – but only just. Some 49% of women work for an in-house IT team in a government body or a private sector company, compared to 46% of men. But it’s the public sector that leads the way – 15% of our female respondents work for a government or not-for-profit organisation, compared to just 9% of men. Is that a reflection that salary – generally better in the private sector – is a higher priority for men than for women?
Is there a glass ceiling in IT?
Perhaps contrary to popular perception, for women in IT there is little evidence of a glass ceiling – the proportion of women in senior roles is only a little less than the proportion of men, although the absolute numbers differ greatly, of course.
Some 13% of women classify themselves as director level or above, compared to 17% of men. At manager or head of department levels, women are actually doing very slightly better – 32% of female respondents describing their role in this way, against 31% of men.
But it’s in less senior roles that women are finding it harder to move up the ladder – 54% of women are team members or team leaders, against 51% of men.
The total numbers of women compared to men at each level remain significantly less of course – but proportionately, being a woman in tech doesn’t seem to unduly hinder your ability to rise to the top.
Women who code
There has been a big focus in recent years on encouraging women to learn coding as a way to address the gender gap – but it doesn’t seem to be working. Men are much more likely to be in a technical role designing, developing, implementing or supporting IT systems – 48% of men are in such roles, compared to just 31% of women.
It is more likely that women will be found in non-technical roles such as account management, marketing or back-office support – 12% of women work in such jobs, compared to just 3% of men. But a higher proportion of women than men work in user-facing roles such as business analysis – 8% compared to 3%.
Otherwise, the relative proportions of men and women in most other roles, such as project management, are very similar.
Bigger is better
Women are more likely to be employed by larger organisations in tech – 52% of our female respondents work in organisations with more than 500 employees, compared to 44% of men. This is perhaps a reflection of bigger employers being more aware of the benefits of a better gender split in IT.
Efforts continue at all levels of the education system to encourage more girls to study Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – but the clearest drop-out point seems to come when choosing a degree.
At GCSE and A-level, 56% of men in IT studied Stem subjects, compared to 51% of their female peers – but at degree level, 60% of our male respondents took a Stem course, against 48% of women.
In other subjects, the most notable gender difference is in social science, arts and language, studied at university by 22% of women in IT, against just 11% of men.
In general, if you’re a woman working in tech, you’re more likely to be in the early stages of your career, working in the IT team for a larger organisation, in a user-facing rather than technical job. There’s about a 50/50 chance you studied Stem topics during your education. And compared to your female peers in tech, you’re almost as likely as a man at the same stage of your career to progress into a senior role – but you might find it harder to take those first steps up the ladder.
Sadly, throughout your career you’re still going to be in a minority compared to the number of men you work with. And that’s why it’s all the more important to be a role model for the women who will follow you into technology.
Oh, and if you’re an executive at an IT or telecoms supplier – it’s time to change your employment practices and make good on your promises to develop a more diverse and gender-balanced workforce.