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Why should the IT industry do more to attract female candidates?

Apr 29
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Why should the IT industry do more to attract female...

Computing has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, with men being more likely than women to pursue careers in the sector. But a new report highlights the benefits of addressing the current gender imbalance at IT companies, revealing that employing more women would deliver a major shot in the arm to the UK economy, while also helping to fill skills shortages.

£2.6bn - the value of increasing the number of women in IT

A study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), commissioned by domain name registry Nominet, claimed that reducing the gender gap would boost national coffers to the tune of £2.6 billion per year.

It seems companies in the sector are largely sold on the importance of employing a more balanced workforce. Some 59 per cent of IT decision makers surveyed by the CEBR agreed their IT team would benefit from having a similar level of male and female employees, with just seven per cent disagreeing. When asked to name the likely advantages of a more gender-balanced office, 52 per cent of respondents cited improved communications skills, while 48 per cent chose better morale and 46 per cent went for the increased likelihood of bringing new ideas to the organisation.

There's also a recognition among businesses that their IT workforces need improving. Three-quarters of decision makers said they don't have enough suitably skilled IT staff; of these, well over half stated this is having a negative impact on their productivity, estimating that on average, these levels are down by about 33 per cent.

What's going wrong?

Despite the clear benefits of taking on more women in IT, the research also showed that the industry has a long way to go on the matter. Currently, women make up fewer than one in five employees in IT - and trends suggest the existing gap is only likely to widen further over the coming years.

Discussing the reasons behind the relatively low level of women taking up jobs in the sector, the CEBR noted that IT education has typically failed to attract female participants.

Among A level students, just a third of those taking ICT are girls, with this proportion dropping to less than one-tenth for computer studies.

And this imbalance continues into tertiary education, the report revealed, with girls making up only 19 per cent of students on computer science courses.

Perhaps even more concerningly, there is a high level of dropout between females studying towards IT-related degrees and actually taking up jobs in the sector. Only nine per cent of females taking IT degrees go on to pursue a career in the field, compared to 26 per cent of men.

The problem could be one of perception. Of the IT decision makers polled by the CEBR, 53 per cent agreed that women find technology-related jobs to be less attractive than men do, with 60 per cent of this group claiming that the IT profession is typically seen to be male-dominated.

A further 33 per cent questioned whether enough is being done to attract women to the sector from a young age, arguing that IT is not being promoted enough to girls in school or college.

Improvement could be just around the corner

While much of the study makes for somewhat bleak reading when it comes to bridging the IT industry's gender gap, there are signs that the importance of attracting more women is increasingly being recognised - which could be the first step on the road to improvement.

Almost one-quarter of respondents said their company is actively promoting IT roles to females, while one in five are visiting schools and universities to engage with girls and women.

Gill Crowther, Nominet's director of HR, said: "The digital economy is driving economic growth in the UK. Given the extent of the IT skills shortage, we can't afford to only recruit from half the talent pool. It's alarming to think that, if current trends continue, the IT gender gap will get bigger rather than smaller.

"We need to attract more women into the technology industry at every level, and this starts with encouraging girls at school and university to study IT subjects."

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