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The number of women in specialist IT roles in India is significantly higher than in the UK, research by Open University has found.
The study, in partnership with Indian IT trade association firm Nasscom, of IT professionals and middle management from companies in the UK and India, found 35% of people with specialist technology roles in India are women, compared to 17% in the UK.
When compared with data from the 2016 BCS Women in IT Scorecard, a number of differences between the number of women in science, technology engineering and maths (Stem) in the UK and India were found including fewer stereotypes surrounding the type of people who undertake Stem careers, more collaboration between education providers and industry, and more encouragement from parents to pursue careers in tech.
Clem Herman, director of eSTEeM at The Open University, explained women usually join the technology industry at entry level in India, while the UK has a “real problem” encouraging women into IT roles during their early careers.
“The participation rate of girls in Stem education [in India] are much higher than the figures we have in this country,” he said.
Collaboration between industry and educators
Open University research found 90.77% of women in India claimed their academic track record and background is what encouraged them to pursue a career in technology, which was true of only 77% of women in the UK.
Herman said focusing on how India encourages women into entry level IT roles is where the UK can learn most from India.
During Theresa May’s announcement of the Institute for coding, the lack of communication between the technology industry and education providers was cited as one of the reasons there is a significant skills gap in the UK.
Encouraging more women into the technology industry was one of the aims May said the Institute for Coding planned to address.
But in India, half of companies recruit directly through universities, not just from the technology remit but from other related Stem disciplines such as engineering.
Indian companies recruit from campuses and make it clear what jobs are available within industry.
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Exams and interviews for these jobs all take place on campus, whereas in the UK students are more likely to attend job fairs without making a connection with employers, and are often required to have experience or additional training before joining firms which they have no way of getting.
This means Indian companies tend to have a higher density of women in technology at entry level, whereas in the UK there are more women in tech in mid-level roles who join tech from other industries.
Harmen said some companies may reach “critical mass” for entry level positions, causing a shift towards the same diamond-shaped recruitment structure the UK has for women in tech.
The UK’s Institute for Coding aims to tackle the UK’s lack of partnerships between universities and industry to tackle this lack of collaboration and move towards a model more like the one in India.
As well as a difference in how companies are recruiting women in IT in India, there is a difference in culture surrounding the technology industry which makes it more inviting to women in India than in the UK.
In the UK, stereotypes about the types of people who usually fill technology roles put girls off of choosing a technology career from a young age.
In India, women are seen as a vital part of the technology industry and 92% of women in the region said they pursued a career in technology because they had a passion for it. In the UK, 82% of women said the same. “The industry [in India] sees women as a key asset and not something they need to ‘add on’,” said Herman.
Women in India are exposed to images of other women in the technology industry through media such as adverts, brochures and public billboards.
In the UK, a lack of role models in the technology industry to encourage others to pursue a career in Stem is a problem that even young women have spoken out about. “We battle in many of our institutions just to get a token woman in an engineering brochure or industry facing website,” said Herman.
There is also a difference between parents’ attitudes towards technology careers in the UK and in India.
In India 85% of women said they chose to pursue a Stem career because of a family influence, whereas in the UK parents are not keen on encouraging their children into technology, and both parents and teachers have admitted to gender stereotyping Stem subjects.
But Herman said the UK needs to move “out of the mindset that it’s something about computing” culture and realise “it’s something about the UK culture” that turns women and girls away from tech. “We may potentially be able to change it,” she said.
What can the UK do to change?
While India has a higher concentration of women in entry-level positions, the UK appears to have a higher concentration of women in mid-level roles, and Vishakh Yaduvanshi, first secretary for economics at the High Commission of India (HCI) admitted women around the age of 25 in India “lose out” on progressing with their career because it is culturally expected of them to start a family.
Peter Horrocks, vice-chancellor of the Open University, said by following India’s pattern of partnering with education providers to engage young people early on, technology companies could ensure they attract women across the entire pipeline to address the current gender gap in the top and bottom levels of organisations.
“We know a university cannot succeed simply by having academic excellence. It has to be through partnership,” he said.
Women often avoid technology roles because of the misconception that they are too technical, but Horrocks said skilled women are naturally more predisposed than men and are needed for technology roles.
Diversity has been proven to improve business performance, and is becoming increasingly important in organisations as the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation is making creativity a necessary skill for the future tech workforce.
Martha Lane Fox, chancellor of the Open University, cross bench peer and board member of Twitter, claimed the gender imbalance combined with the fast pace of technology shifts made her feel “uncomfortable”.
But the gender and diversity imbalance cannot be addressed through one action, such as promoting more women or publishing gender pay gaps, but through “hundreds and hundreds of different actions from school to grave,” said Lane-Fox. “This isn’t going to happen overnight.”