Women choose IT as a profession less often than men, and less often than other under represented groups. BCS would like to see this change, as there are many good opportunities and women flourish in IT environments.
Today’s job market is very competitive. For some companies, it doesn’t feel much like ‘post recession’, and growth is evasive. Some are growing again and vacancies are opening up as recruitment freezes are lifted, but not all. The public sector will remain challenging for some time, as their cuts start to bite. IT is both the enabler of savings and the engine of growth, and people with skills and experience in IT are likely to be more in demand than people with other skill sets. IT jobs are often well paid, with opportunities for travel. IT is integral to every business process, and IT teams interact with business teams, working together in exciting and dynamic environments to transform their companies. At a careers convention one woman computer scientist said: ‘The work is varied, stimulating, flexible and, compared to other industries, well paid. It’s a great place to be.’
However, it seems that for many women IT isn’t regarded as a great place to be.
The UKRC has published the following (UKRC statistics, women and men in science, engineering and technology: The UK statistics guide 2010).
In business generally, across all professions, women have limited presence on boards, despite evidence that companies with a strong female representation at Board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender diverse boards have a positive impact on performance (Lord Davies Report, February 2011 and previous McKinsey report).
In Scotland, The Royal Society of Edinburgh has also published some interesting statistics in its report (April 2012): Tapping all our Talents - Women in science technology, engineering and mathematics: A strategy for Scotland
So what’s happening? In school and at university, computing and computer science overall is less popular than it used to be. Fewer people are taking GCSE and A level computing courses, or applying to computer science or IT courses at university. But the number of people in IT occupations continues to rise. The 2010 UKRC factsheet “Women in computing in the UK: a major shortage” provides a useful breakdown of statistics across levels of education and in the workforce.
Many employers look beyond the disciplines of computer science to recruit into IT roles - science, maths and economics or business qualifications are considered. Whilst these provide excellent transferable analytical skills which can be valuable and necessary to the profession, this is not ideal for technical IT roles.
Skills such as communications, team work, data collection and analysis, customer service, responsiveness and presentation skills are increasingly in demand and women often excel in these skills. The opportunities for women to enter employment in the IT sector are very good and the diversity and perspective that women add to teams is valuable.
Many universities are also doing important work in the area of recruiting women to computing degrees and supporting them through their course to ensure retention to join the IT profession. The Athena Swan Charter for Women in Science recognises and celebrates good employment practices for women working in SET higher education and research and membership is assuming increasing importance as a pre-requisite for other activities.
Furthermore, given that IT-related jobs are to be found within almost every organisation, they allow great flexibility of career choice, including in the most innovative and successful companies. The best employers recognise the importance of retaining their female staff and encourage women to combine families and work, taking into account the need to work locally rather than travel. With many IT jobs being shift or project based, employers are able to offer many different flexible styles of working. The investment in training staff means that employers are keen to encourage women to keep in touch and return after a career break.
BCS has had a long tradition of working to increase the participation of women in IT. The Institute works to increase the number of women in the IT profession and in IT jobs, including more women studying computer science. We are now taking a leadership role to have ‘IT recognised as an exemplarily inclusive profession, for both IT and non IT professionals in the computing domain’ and we are starting with women. In support of this key objective, the Institute aspires to reach a target of 40% women on all Boards, and aims to have between 20 and 40% women by 2016. Additionally we are starting a programme in 2012 to put Board and Committee members through unconscious bias training by the end of 2014. It is hoped that completion of this training will be a pre-requisite to being a Board or Committee member from 2013. The Institute will be an exemplar and will work with corporate members, the government and other societies to promote best practice and implement initiatives that will increase the number of women at all levels.
The Institute is also participating in the initiative led by the Royal Academy and involving all the Engineering Societies, to improve membership of women at all levels and the numbers of women on the boards and councils which run the societies.
We need lots of computer scientists who have got computer science degrees and we want more of those to be women. There have been a number of recent breakthroughs in this area lately with the recognition that the ICT and computing curricula in schools are woefully inadequate and old fashioned, putting both girls and boys off careers in IT. For example Michael Gove has called for more computing science in the school curriculum, (following on from the criticism by Eric Schmidt of the UK for not producing more computer scientists). The BCS Academy of Computing has been taking the lead in much of these discussions and contributed fully to the Royal Society report published January 2012. Through the BCS Academy of Computing and Computing at School (CAS) the Institute is working to encourage schools to teach computing and to engage with all pupils.
Other initiatives include:
The Institute will continue to focus on this area and collaborate with other partner organisations to raise the participation of women in the profession.
We are building a profession that is good for women and better for all.
Date of publication: December 2012