IT is still perceived as a boys' discipline

Gender-balanced IT sector could add �2.6bn to economy

Women are still being put off pursuing IT as a career even though a more gender-balanced IT sector could bring up to £2.6bn to UK economy.

In a study published today, on International Girls in IT Day, the UK’s Internet infrastructure operator Nominet has revealed that only 9 per cent of women studying IT degrees actually end up working in IT.

Women currently make up less than one-fifth of the IT workforce and, instead of narrowing, the IT gender gap is expected to widen even more in the upcoming years.

“I think part of the problem might be that when deciding which professional path to take, women might be put off IT by what is perceived as still a largely male-dominated culture,” said Gill Crowther, HR director at Nominet. An engineering graduate herself, she believes many women make good use of what they learned while studying IT to become managers or business people.

“I have myself benefited a lot from studying engineering, although it might seem not to have anything to do with HR,” she said.

However, she believes the biggest problem is society. The lack of female role models and perpetuating gender stereotypes make the public perceive IT as a domain of 'Big Bang Theory'-like technology nerds.

“Young girls simply don’t see technical disciplines as something they should be interested in, that’s the first thing that needs to be addressed,” said Crowther.

The new report, compiled by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr), also revealed that only 26 per cent of job applications received for IT vacancies come from female applicants.

In a time when the UK’s businesses struggle with skills shortages, it is believed encouraging female talent could play a crucial role in filling the gap.

Currently, only a third of ICT A-level students and less than a tenth of Computer Studies A-level students are female. Among computer science students at universities, girls make up only 19 per cent.

The Cebr report concluded that filling the IT skills shortage with women would bring up to £2.6bn to UK economy annually. If the same number of women studied computer science degrees as men, and the same proportion of these women as men went on to work in the IT industry, the overall net benefit for the UK economy would be £103m per year.

Seventy-six per cent of companies surveyed believe they lack suitably skilled staff in IT. Of these, 58 per cent say this negatively affects productivity levels, estimating on average that productivity levels are 33 per cent lower as a result. 

Fifty-nine per cent of companies agree that their IT team would benefit from having a more gender-balanced workforce, while only 7 per cent disagree. Improved communication skills (52 per cent), improved staff morale (48 per cent), and bringing new ideas to the organisation (46 per cent) were the most frequently cited benefits.

“Having a good gender balance is beneficial in all types of roles, not only in IT,” Crowther explained. “It brings diversity and a breadth of thinking and style, which helps to be more creative and innovative.”

The Cebr study draws on a survey of 527 business decision makers in IT teams and IT companies conducted by Opinium Research between 21 March and 2 April 2014.

Nominet commissioned the research and report to mark International Girls in ICT day, which aims to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in IT.

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