New stats on women in IT make old news

You would have thought that with the research on pay gaps and the Exemplar Employer report we would be past discussing whether women get a fair deal at work and would have moved on to what people are actually going to do about it.

BCS, e-skills UK and Intellect, in association with the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, have produced the ‘Women in IT Scorecard’ to provide “a definitive evidence base for data and commentary, from females taking IT related qualifications, to being employed as part of the IT professional workforce.”

The report gathers a whole host of statistics about subjects girls take at school and so on, but the analysis is non-existent. Fair enough, it’s a scorecard, it’s not designed to provide a detailed analysis as it was produced as a statistical exercise. Then you read statements like:

The lack of females taking IT related qualifications directly impacts upon the proportion of females that are employed today as IT professionals.

Really? There’s no cause-and-effect analysis in the study, so this is just anecdotal at best. The report defines IT professionals as people who are employed in IT occupations. Taking that as a broad definition, there are plenty of women I know working in IT departments in IT jobs that are not programmers: IT sales, customer service, business analysts, ITIL, project managers and you don’t need a Computer Science degree to do those jobs – in fact, it might make you less able. Three years immersing yourself in the jargon of geeks will make it more complicated to engage with other areas of the business.

The report then goes on to say that actually there are plenty of females in IT, it’s just that we do the low paid admin jobs:

Analysing IT occupations in more detail, it is clear females are more heavily represented in the lower skilled, less well paid occupations. Females account for just 19% of ICT Managers and 14% of IT Strategy and Planning Professionals, but comprise nearly three fifths of Database Assistants / Clerks. This occupation, the only IT occupation where females outnumber males, is the joint least well paid at £375 per week and well the below the national average (£425).

So what they mean is that there aren’t enough women in IT doing certain jobs: the ones that are considered highly skilled and get paid loads of money (although not as much as men in the same roles).

The link between educational attainment and progression into the workforce is interesting though. GCSE results for girls taking ICT are better than the results for boys. And while the numbers of girls going on to do A levels is low, their results are still better than the boys:

The story is much the same at A-Level with females, although less in number, continuing to outperform their male counterparts. 18% of females taking Computing A-Levels compared to 16% of males and 13% of females taking an ICT A-Level compared to 8% of males were awarded an A grade.

So what happens between leaving school and joining the workforce that means young women don’t go into IT? Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK, believes that it’s down to ‘misperceptions’:

“In the current economic downturn, the country is relying more than ever on the capability of the technology workforce to drive innovation and productivity. For the sector to be largely missing out on half the talent pool in this way is clearly a major concern. We find that many women are deterred from considering IT careers by misperceptions. As an industry, we need to do much more to promote the wide range of roles and skills we need. In particular, the types of roles that require a blend of business, interpersonal and technical skills are often appealing to women, and this is a skill set in great demand in the UK.”

What perceptions do young women have of IT that are wrong? Now that would be an interesting study. But more than that: what are employers and schools going to do about it? If you want more women in IT recruit them and pay them fairly, or do what Deloitte is doing [link removed July 2020 as no longer available] and bring in young talent on graduate schemes and train them to be the leaders of the future.

Studies and statistics are all well and good but I’m looking forward to reading one that says that as a result of xyz initiative things are actually getting better for working women.