IT gender gap could persist for 20 years

It is 30 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced, yet research shows that the average female income is still lower than the...

It is 30 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced, yet research shows that the average female income is still lower than the average male income. And according to the New Earnings Survey 2000, published by the Office for National Statistics, it could be a further 20 years until the gap closes if it continues at the current rate of change, writes Roisin Woolnough.

"The gap in average earnings has decreased by a tiny amount over the past year - from 19.1% to 18.4%," says Julie Mellor, chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission. "If the gap continues to close at this rate then a young woman taking her GCSEs this year could still expect to be paid substantially less in 10 years' time than her male friends."

Recent research conducted by Computer Weekly indicates that this inequality of pay is prevalent in the IT industry. Although the good news is that the difference is slightly less marked than in the overall labour market.

After surveying more than 2,000 readers, Computer Weekly found that female IT professionals tend to be in jobs that pay 15% less on average than jobs held by male IT professionals. For the female IT professionals surveyed, the average salary is £30,000 a year, while the average salary earned by the men is £36,000 a year.

John O'Sullivan, skills consultant at the E-Skills National Training Organisation, says the issue is not a straightforward case of women being paid less than men for the same job. "The salary issue is very real, but it is a symptom of the wider issue that the industry is not attracting women," he explains. "It is not a case of the old fashioned glass ceiling that women are being discriminated against. It is more that women are discriminating against the industry, as the proportion of women in IT about 20%, and it is declining."

O'Sullivan thinks women are being put off from entering the industry because the image of IT as a male-dominated, geeky industry still persists. He also believes that many women who are working in IT are not receiving the recognition they deserve because the balance is tipped in favour of men.

"There is still a lot of women-unfriendliness around, with lads working long hours together into the evening and going to the pub to have a few drinks afterwards. Women may have more family commitments, they may have to leave at 5pm, and are not getting the promotions they deserve," he says.

Philip Virgo, strategic adviser at the Institute for the Management of Information Systems, says research shows that the older a woman is, the more likely it is that she will be on a lower rate of pay than a man of the same age. This could be because a woman has taken time out of her career to have children or works part-time because of family commitments.

"There are pressures that force many women to go part-time as they get older, such as childcare or looking after elderly relatives," says Virgo. He says this could cause many of them to fall behind men in terms of earning power.

Another problem highlighted by Computer Weekly's research, is that a higher number of men are in senior positions. Obviously, increased authority results in higher levels of renumeration. The research revealed that 41% of women are working in the lowest paid jobs, compared to only 25% of men.

Similarly, almost 33% of men are making it into the highest paid jobs, compared to 18% of women.

"Women are concentrated in the lower-level jobs," says O'Sullivan. "They are terribly under-represented in the top-level jobs, which is causing a salary differential."

Women are also more likely to work for local government authorities and the education system, which traditionally pay less than other sectors.

Virgo thinks the IT industry needs to be aware of all these problems and says women-friendly campaigns have made a big difference in the past. "Since the Women in IT campaign has died away, the proportion of women in the industry has been falling, so I wouldn't be surprised if the salary differentials were falling as well," he says.

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