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Closing the gender gap in IT

January 2020

IT professionals explain what measures can be taken to increase the number of young women aspiring to start a career in technology

Recruiting females into IT roles can be a challenge as the discipline is very male dominated. This is reflected in HESA's latest Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education data, with only 14.6% of first-degree IT graduates identifying as female.

Interestingly, the percentage of recent female graduates working as IT professionals in the UK labour market is slightly higher (20.3%). Nevertheless, the glaring gender gap can be an issue for organisations that are looking to diversify their workforce.

Where do female IT professionals work?

Employers aiming to redress the balance face a mismatch of talent throughout the UK, which can complicate the hiring process. As a starting point, understanding where female graduates currently working in IT are based in the country will help to maximise the chances of successful recruitment.

A large proportion of female graduates employed in IT congregate in London (29.1%), with hotspots of female IT professionals in the South East (13.1%), the North West (8.8%) and the West Midlands (8%).

It is therefore possible that employers looking to recruit IT professionals in Wales, the North East of England and the East Midlands may receive fewer applicants for their vacancies. This supply issue might be something worth taking into account when setting diversity targets and planning recruitment campaigns.

RegionPercentage of female IT professionals
London29.1
South East13.1
North West8.8
West Midlands8
Scotland6.7
Northern Ireland6.5
South West6.2
Yorkshire and The Humber5.8
East of England5.5
East Midlands4.7
North East3
Wales2.3
Guernsey and Jersey and the Isle of Man0.2

How can we close the gender gap?

This is a long-term issue and many suggestions have been put forward for how to increase the number of young women interested in studying IT and pursuing a career in technology.1 Achieving this goal would not only help reduce gender imbalance, it would also boost productivity and help employers throughout the UK fill their vacancies.2 

Mohammed Rehman, programme team leader for computing at Arden University, draws attention to the research conducted by Napier University, which identified a number of factors affecting the underrepresentation of women in IT.

'These factors included lack of female role models, negative perceptions and stereotypes of people who work in the tech sector, and feelings of not belonging,' he said.  'They highlighted that skills in creativity, problem solving and teamwork are inherent in tech roles and that these aspects would appeal to female candidates, but they are not necessarily evident in their representations within popular culture.'

A study by Accenture echoes this point, with the results showing that only 32% of girls and young women associate STEM careers with being creative.3 Promoting the creative aspect of a tech career to younger students could increase engagement.

62% of teen girls regret not continuing to study STEM subjects for longer, and this highlights the importance of early intervention

Interacting with students much earlier in their educational journey is crucial as it can be more difficult to encourage females into STEM once they are at graduate level. Recent data shows that the number of girls opting to pursue Computing at GCSE level has increased year-on-year from 15,046 female students in 2018 to 17,158 in 2019.4 Girls now make up 21.4% of GCSE computing students in the UK, which is positive for the future of the tech industry, but there is scope for further improvement.5

It is also important that females maintain their interest in this subject, as the STEM drop off rate at A-level is concerning. It's even more alarming that 62% of teen girls regret not continuing to study STEM subjects for longer, and this highlights the importance of early intervention for young females who demonstrate an interest IT.6

Zoe Morris, president at Frank Recruitment Group, says that her organisation tries to inspire the younger generation to develop an interest in IT by sponsoring coding clubs for kids aged 7+ and working with various higher education facilities to lead workshops and give talks. She adds that 'the industry needs to make technology accessible and fun, and we see that as key'.

Role models are also valuable, as Microsoft found that girls in the UK are more inclined to pursue a career in STEM if they have a role model that inspires them.7 Mohammed suggests that 'employers can work with universities to address these issues, providing positive role models and opportunities to meet with female tech workers, for instance through peer mentoring schemes, guest lectures and networking events'.

He says, 'Guest speaker events and mentoring schemes are great ways to counteract the issue of a lack of awareness of successful females in the IT world. They also help to create a sense of belonging through the partnerships and networks formed between students and practitioners.'

Priscilla Coates, co-owner and managing director of Magma Digital, is hopeful that the new T-levels, which are a skills based-alternative to traditional A-levels, will help to improve the gender balance in the technology industry.

She adds that 'digital skills will be a focus of the new qualifications. This means we do have the opportunity to inspire young talent both male and female to follow a digital skills route, and this could help encourage higher levels of female techies pursuing degrees and a career in the industry. This needs to be combined with a more concerted effort from both industry and education to change perceptions of the sector and provide inspiration and opportunities for females to go into tech.'

Organisations looking to target current graduates can consider a number of adjustments to attract female IT professionals. 'Adopting policies such as flexible working, returnship programmes for those ready to come back to technology after a break, and instigating mentorship schemes are just a few strategies that can help address gender imbalance,' concludes Zoe.

Notes

  1. What Companies can do to Encourage Women into Tech, Creative Resource.
  2. Women in Tech: Time to close the gender gap, PWC, 2017.
  3. Girls say they regret dropping STEM subjects, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2018.
  4. Girls now account for more than 20% of computing GCSE entries, Computer Weekly, 2019.
  5. Ibid.
  6. More than 60% of teen girls regret not studying Stem, Computer Weekly, 2018.
  7. Girls with a role model more likely to consider career in STEM, Microsoft research reveals, Microsoft, 2018.

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