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In 2020, BCS reported that women accounted for 17% of IT specialists in the UK, a figure that had only grown by 1% in the five years prior to the report’s release.
While it is human nature to remain hopeful that things will improve, this year’s Diversity Report from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, stated that if current trends continue, it will take another 283 years for the percentage of women working in the UK’s tech sector to match the 48% of women there are in the wider workforce.
Increasing the number of women in the UK’s technology sector has been an ongoing challenge for a number of reasons, despite businesses becoming more aware of the positive impact a diverse workforce can have on their organisations.
Julia Adamson, managing director for education and public benefit at BCS, said it was time to give more women and girls the opportunity to embark on careers in an industry that’s shaping the world.
“A massive pool of talent and creativity is being overlooked when it could benefit employers and the economy,” she said. “There has to be a radical rethink of how we get more women and girls into tech careers, and a more inclusive tech culture is ethically and morally the right thing to do.”
Diversity improving at a snail’s pace
The slow pace of change when it comes to diversity in the tech sector is something Computer Weekly has been covering for years. At the 2023 Computer Weekly and Nash Squared diversity event, Bev White, CEO of Nash Squared, said that every year, progress is minimal, so the goal of true inclusion and equity in the tech sector gets further and further away.
When looking into secondary data from the Office for National Statistics, BCS found that in the four years to 2022, the number of women in the UK tech sector increased by just 4% – from 16% in 2018 to 20% in 2022. The 2022 percentage remained the same as the previous year.
In 2019, BCS found that the 249,000 women working in UK technology accounted for 17% of IT specialists in the region.
Three years later, the number had increased, but not by much. In 2022, the 380,000 women working as IT specialists accounted for 20% of tech workers in the UK, according to BCS’s findings.
These statistics are no surprise, and the percentage of women in technology is not the only stagnant figure.
Black women make up 0.7% of tech sector workers, which although an increase from 0.3% in 2019, is still unfathomably small. In other types of work, the proportion of black women is 2.5 times higher than in tech.
The BCS’s 2019/20 figures showed there were 268,000 black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) IT specialists in the UK, accounting for 18% of IT workers, while 8% of IT specialists were of Indian ethnicity, 2% came from a black, African, Caribbean or black British background, and 2% came from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds.
This year’s report, looking into figures from 2022, showed that while the number of people from ethnic minority groups has increased, to 376,000, a closer look revealed the percentage of IT specialists of Indian ethnicity has remained unchanged and the number from a black, African, Caribbean or black British background has only increased by 1%, meaning BAME individuals only made up 20% of the IT workforce that year.
Regional and role-based differences
When it comes to diversity in the technology sector, there can be significant differences depending on what region or role is the focus.
When it comes to diversity across the UK, the BCS report showed that London has a larger number of female workers than elsewhere in the UK, at 19%, as well as a greater percentage of IT workers from BAME backgrounds.
Across the UK, areas found to have the highest representation of women in tech were the South-East, the West Midlands and Scotland, where women make up 23% of the technology workforce. The North-East and East Midlands have the lowest representation of women in IT, accounting for only 16% of the tech workforce in these regions.
When it comes to the regions with the fewest BAME workers, Wales and the North-West of England were found to have low representation, making up only 5% of IT workers.
When it comes to job roles, the figures show women are more likely to be IT project managers or web designers than other types of IT professional. In these roles, women account for 30% and 28%, respectively. Careers as IT and telecoms engineers were found to be the least popular among women, accounting for 6% and 8%, respectively.
Women in tech were found in higher proportions in industries such as the public sector, hospitality and manufacturing than other industries.
Much like women in the technology sector, the figures showed people from BAME backgrounds are less often in senior roles, accounting for only 13% of IT directors. BAME individuals are found in higher numbers in roles such as programmers, software developers, business analysts, architects and system designers.
BAME workers are less likely to work in smaller organisations and are more likely to work in IT firms or in IT roles in hospitality businesses.
There are lots of reasons certain people choose not to go into technology, or may be attracted to certain roles in certain industries.
Read more about diversity in tech
- The government is introducing a law to raise the income threshold for potential angel investors, potentially making it harder for people from under-represented groups to fund startups.
- Focusing on recruiting diverse tech talent can be hard, but firms are finding that keeping the talent they already have can be an even harder task.
For example, anecdotally, women in technology roles often gravitate towards jobs they feel are making a difference or a contribution to society or real-world problems.
The gender pay gap
The gender pay gap is a well-known phenomenon, whereby on average women earn less money annually than men. In 2022, women in the technology sector typically earned more than women in other industries, with women in tech making a median of £22 an hour, compared with £15 an hour in other types of roles and industries.
Despite this, the gender pay gap in technology persists, with men in the sector making around 8% more than women in 2022.
Part of the reason for the gender pay gap is because women are less likely to be in senior, higher paid positions, both in or outside of technology companies.
BAME individuals are also less likely to be in senior tech roles. BCS found around 36% of BAME people claimed to be in a role of responsibility, as opposed to 41% of white IT specialists.
Although women are paid less than their male counterparts in tech, at a median of £22 an hour, BAME IT workers actually make more than others, with a median hourly rate of £26 as opposed to the industry median of £24 an hour. This could be because, on average, people from a BAME background are also more highly qualified – 86% have a higher level qualification and are more likely to have a tech-related degree than others in tech jobs.
While men and women in tech were found to have similar levels of education – with around 70% attaining a degree or higher educational level qualification – men are more likely to have studied a computing-based subject. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to have received on-the-job training, both in and outside of the technology industry.
The push for flexibility
One of the most commonly highlighted ways more women can be encouraged into the technology sector is through increased flexibility. The Tech Talent Charter recently found a lack of flexibility is causing many women to leave jobs in tech, with 40% saying whether or not they stay in their role depends on their current care responsibilities.
Nash Squared also found women are moving away from organisations mandating office days towards those where they are able to work more flexibly – and it isn’t just women who want and benefit from more flexibility.
Jo Stansfield, co-chair of BCS Women, even theorised that the larger increase in women in tech between 2018 and 2022 may have been as a result of the pandemic increasing the flexibility workplaces were willing to offer, and stagnation in the following years could be due to workplaces wanting a return to mandated office days in some cases.
The BCS found that, as a whole, people in tech tend not to work part time, but women in the industry are working part-time in greater numbers than their male counterparts. Part-time workers account for 23% of the UK workforce, whereas in tech only 5% of people are part-time employees.
Of those who work part-time, women are more likely to work part-time hours than men, but there are still far fewer women working part-time in tech than in other occupations – in the wider workforce, 37% of women work part time, while the number in tech is 13%.
Stansfield said: “What’s needed is the development of inclusive workplace policies and practices to retain our workforce and to keep building on it.”