Women put off by IT's image

Women are ideally placed to succeed in the IT sector, but the possibility of hitting a 'glass ceiling' in their careers is...

Women are ideally placed to succeed in the IT sector, but the possibility of hitting a 'glass ceiling' in their careers is putting them off embracing IT roles, according to research published this month by Cheltenham Ladies College.

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The MORI-conducted study, which polled the opinions of over 800 women and IT employers, follows recent suggestions by industry bodies such as the e-skills National Training Organisation (NTO), that women could significantly ease skills shortages in the UK if encouraged to work in the industry. As part of its investigations, MORI found that above all else - including technical qualifications - IT employers are looking for staff who are able to communicate well, who are team workers, and who are flexible.

Many of the respondents associated these skills with women, says the report, however in the companies interviewed, on average just 24 per cent of IT positions were held by women, with only 13 per cent of those roles being senior management in nature.

From its discussions with women already employed in managerial roles in the sector, MORI discovered that many believed the industry's image as one "dominated by men and peopled by geeks" was putting others off joining it.

Some 60 per cent said they thought they would hit a glass ceiling in their own IT careers, and 31 per cent of their employers conceded that the women were probably right.

Cheltenham Ladies College says the reason for this 'glass ceiling' is unclear, although it notes from the research that many women feel the sector should develop family-friendly workplaces, job-sharing and flexible working practices. Women also want to see better reward packages and better opportunities for career and personal development, it adds.

According to the college, girls' "increasing domination" of the A level league table suggests the sector is "missing out on the best students", who are choosing instead to pursue more "conventional" careers.

"Women could play a much bigger role in developing and leading the new industries as many girls have the skills and qualities employers say they are looking for," comments Vicky Tuck, principal of the Ladies' College.

In an effort to keep its pupils up-to-date on skills sought after in the workplace, Cheltenham Ladies College has made IT studies compulsory and has improved its work-shadowing programme to give pupils greater exposure to careers in the 'new industries'.

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