Women are falling out of love with the IT industry. Since 2001, the number of female IT professionals has dropped 6%.
I believe it is time the IT industry really starts to look at the problem of keeping and motivating female IT professionals.
The Forum has been concerned about the decline for some time, and I hope to build on the agenda built up by my predecessor Wendy Hall.
I want to co-ordinate some of the fragmented voices presently representing women in the IT industry and develop the Forum into a trusted source of information. Later, I hope to focus attention on the relationship between employing women and keeping UK innovation and skills from going overseas.
We are also tackling the issue in the short-term. This month BCS, with Intellect, is publishing two guides for women and employers on taking a break from, and then getting back into the industry. In February, the Forum and recruitment portal are organising W-Tech 2009, the first large-scale UK IT recruitment event aimed exclusively at women.
The onus is still on getting organisations to look creatively at their cultures. While I have never experienced discrimination, I believe that women in IT do struggle more than men.
Women do not seem to be as good at self-publicity. We tend to think that if we put our heads down and get on with it we will be recognised for doing a good job. But it does not work. If men and women in the working environment realise this then women will struggle less.
Not every woman working in IT wants to drive herself into a director-level role while bringing up children. But it was only when I was in America (on secondment as Global HR manager for IBM Consulting Group) I saw it was okay to have a senior job, be married and have children. I think most young people understand and see that there are a lot of women around today doing that.
Organisations must work to keep employees happy at different stages of their careers. People will become more or less involved at work as their life circumstances change. The challenge is capitalising on such shifts.
Another problem is the perception of IT among girls. I have for some time been a big fan of Computer Clubs For Girls and have advocated changing school IT curricula to appeal to young women, but the task remains long-term.
This is because girls think IT is boring. They look at boys in class on computers and think it is dull. But girls do not equate what they are already doing technology-wise, things such as social networking, texting etc, with IT.
I do think, however, there are more visible role models for female IT professionals than ever before. There are always going to be people driven to succeed, and then there are people who will want a balance, and the industry needs to be aware of that and customise its approach to employees. People want to feel they are able to do everything in this life.