On 30th June 2011, UCAS revealed that 378,138 women applied for a place at university this year, compared to 291,818 men.
The statistics also revealed that 60,219 prospective students applied to study Computer Science, with 12,023 seeking to take technology courses.
But according to the e-skills 2011 report ‘Technology Insights’, only 9% of students studying A Level Computing and 15% of those reading the subject at university are female.
And in March 2011, around the time of International Women’s Day, industry research revealed that only 16% of all IT job seekers are women.
Bob Clift, Head of Higher Education Programmes at e-skills, explained one of the reasons behind the female shortage: “What a lot of women don’t realise is that most IT roles are business focused and are equally applicable to professionals of either sex. The problem the industry still faces, is the common perception that IT roles are reserved for ‘geeky’ men but this couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Gone are the days when IT professionals were confined to back office rooms segregated from the rest of an organisation. IT employees are often required to interact with colleagues within all departments at all levels, very much at the forefront of the business.
The sector also underpins the productivity of every other industry and, in 2010, the IT industry contributed £81 billion to the UK’s total GVA.
Rewards for embarking on a career in IT are impressive and need to be highlighted to women to lure them into the field.
Progression throughout the IT sector is often accelerated. The IT field is a fast-moving environment and people with a head for change and flair for the business can quickly find themselves catapulted into leading positions within big organisations.
Furthermore, the average salary for a permanent IT role in the UK is now £38,946, a 5% increase on the same period last year.
However, despite the advantages of working within the sector, the number of jobs available within the industry has overtaken the number of jobseekers. In the third quarter of 2010, the number of jobs advertised within IT jumped to 101,000, while the number of IT professionals seeking work fell to 100,000.
These figures point to a major crisis within the IT industry: the IT skills shortage. At FDM we aim to overcome this dilemma by bridging the gap between university and employment for graduates. However without the inclusion of women it is inevitable that the industry and therefore the rest of the economy will suffer.
So what can be done to encourage more women to consider a career in the IT sector and combat the IT skills shortage?
At the City University IT skills shortage event which was held at the end of June, industry leaders discussed the impact the lack of a strong female workforce is having on the sector and touched on ways of breaking the cycle.
The general consensus throughout the event was that the National Curriculum needs to be altered in order to sustain women’s interest in the subject throughout school, university and employment.
e-skills representative Nigel Payne gave visitors an insight into to the e-skills-led initiative Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4g), which aims to encourage female pupils to study and enjoy IT by touching on topics they are interested in such as fashion.
However, the belief that women are not naturally geared towards a role within IT the sector may be too deeply rooted to overcome purely through education; early childhood perceptions may be to blame. The findings of a survey conducted by Ofsted in April 2011 found that girls in secondary education held conventionally stereotypical views about their access to future careers.
During her speech on International Women’s Day, Neelie Kroes pointed to the importance of strong female role models within the ICT “hall of fame”. She emphasised that the use of such figures would inspire women to embark on a career in IT and point to “a sign of balance in the sector”.
At FDM, we believe very strongly in challenging common stereotypes and leading by example. The most important testament to our belief in female talent is our inclusion of six women on our Management Board of 11 members. To hold a female majority on any managerial board is unusual but within the IT sector it is almost unheard of; the strong female presence on our board further highlights the importance of the inclusion of women within the sector.
The flow of women into the IT sector needs to be generated from all angles. Of course education is a key aspect of this but the importance of providing women with a picture of success to aspire to should not be overlooked.
Catherine Cheek is Business Support Manager at FDM Group, the UK’s largest IT graduate employer.