Or rather, computing is too important to miss everyone else out. Brian Runciman MBCS reports on BCS’s research into diversity in UK IT.

For the last four years BCS published annual data on the gender split in the IT workplace. Reports ran to 50 plus pages and each had a depressingly familiar theme: the female representation in the IT industry has barely budged from a paltry 17 per cent.

We still need to track this, of course, but this year we are expanding the reach of the report. The 2017 version includes numbers on gender, age, ethnicity and disability. Our royal charter, and concomitant commitment to ethical practice, demand that we raise these issues.

The quote that is the basis for the title of this piece came from an interview I did over ten years ago with respected female academic Karen Sparck-Jones. It still holds, especially with the backdrop of the 2010 The Equality Act, introduced to provide ‘a modern, single legal framework with clear, streamlined law to more effectively tackle disadvantage and discrimination’ in Britain (according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission).

The Equality Act is now nearly seven years old and it’s nearly 50 years since the introduction of various, now integrated, ’core’ pieces of equality-focused legislation. So even the relatively youthful IT industry has had sufficient time to digest and accommodate these legislative requirements - so that personal characteristics do not come into hiring decisions, promotion opportunities, post-break employment opportunities and so on.

How are we doing?

The top level numbers

The IT Industry in total comprised 1.293M people in 2016, which is 4.1 per cent of UK workforce (up from four per cent the previous year).

In terms of diversity, IT performs poorly against the UK workforce:

  • Women: 47%, in IT 17%
  • Disabled people: 12%, in IT 8%
  • People over 50: 31%, in IT 21%

The bright spot:

  • Non-white people: 12 %, in IT 17%

In fact the inclusion rates have changed little over the past five years. Although levels of inclusion in IT have improved slightly in recent years with respect to age and ethnicity, the changes mirror that within the labour market as a whole. But, unemployment rates are higher amongst IT specialists who are disabled, older or from ethnic minority groups.

Key: By ‘needs work’ we really mean ‘bad’; and ‘brighter spots’ is often just a relative term, but we need some positives.

Ethnicity - needs work

IT specialists from minority groups are more likely than others to be in non-permanent employment and are generally more likely than others to be self-employed - this is particularly the case for older workers in such positions.

IT specialists from minority groups are less likely than other workers to be employed in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) or tech businesses - this is particularly the case for women in IT roles.

Non-white IT workers are more than twice as likely (than white IT workers) to have a part-time job - but not from preference, rather they are unable to find full-time employment.

The unemployment rate runs at 3.1 per cent for non-white workers against 1.9 per cent, as a UK average.

Ethnicity - brighter spots

Just under three quarters (70 per cent) of all IT specialists have an HE level qualification rising to nine in ten 87 per cent of those from ethnic minorities.

Workers from non-white groups are better represented in certain UK nations/regions than across the UK as a whole - London doing particularly well with 32 per cent of its IT workforce coming from non-white ethnic backgrounds.

IT workers from ethnic groups earn, on average, £800 per week - a rare example of a figure ahead of the gross weekly (median) wage of £770 for IT workers - which drops to £500 for all UK employees.

Disability - needs work

Earnings for disabled IT specialists are 13 per cent below those without disabilities.

Whilst, as noted above, just under three quarters (70 per cent) of all IT specialists have an HE level qualification, amongst those with disabilities the proportion is much lower at just six in ten (59 per cent).

The unemployment rate runs at 3.7 per cent for disabled IT workers against the UK’s 1.9 per cent.

Whilst white male IT specialists earn £770 per week, those with disabilities earn 16 per cent less: £660.

Disability - brighter spots

Geographically, Northern Ireland performs very poorly in its employment of disabled IT specialists, showing just four per cent; but in Wales, the East Midlands and the South East the number rises to 10 per cent - much better, if still short of the UK industry average.

Disabled IT specialists are notably more likely to have undertaken education and training than other workers. While 24 per cent of workers in the UK received some form of education or training during one of the four quarters of 2016, the figure runs at 28 per cent for those with disabilities.

Gender - needs work

Gender is the area BCS has the largest historical data base for. But despite a definite increase in the media coverage of gender issues in the workplace and, through BCSWomen, for example, especially in IT, the figures still make for poor reading.

Whilst IT specialists earn 36 per cent more per week than employees as a whole, and those from minority groups are more highly paid still, earnings for female IT workers are 11 per cent below that of males.

There is a slight disparity in specialist degree holders: 17 per cent of IT specialists hold an IT degree, but amongst female IT specialists just eight per cent have a degree in an IT discipline.

The pay numbers make for embarrassing reading in the twenty-first century too: whilst white male IT specialists earn £770 per week on average, females earn 15 per cent less: £660 - the same gap as is affecting those with a disability.

Gender - brighter spots

The better numbers are about geography. For example, Scotland ‘boasts’ 20 per cent of its IT specialists as female. At least this is relatively better than the UK as a whole.

Female IT specialists were almost five times as likely to be working part-time as males working in IT positions, which seems to be, at least in part, to family friendly type approaches rather than, as amongst those from non-white backgrounds, lack of full-time permanent opportunities.

Age - needs work

Sadly, this section has no real ‘brighter spots’…

  • In all geographic areas IT lags behind the rest of UK industry in including workers over the age of 50 - with London performing particularly poorly at 13 per cent of its IT workforce compared to 24 per cent in the UK as a whole
  • If you are over 50 the unemployment rate is 2.7 per cent among IT workers, compared to 1.9 per cent for those 16-49 years.

General observations - part-time work

Working part-time is a lifestyle choice for many people, but for approximately 10 per cent of all IT specialists in 2016 this mode of working was an enforced one as they were unable to find the full-time work desired.

Interestingly, the likelihood that IT specialists from minority groups were unable to find full-time work was lower at 8 per cent, though in the case of those from ethnic minority groups the figure is more than double this level at 21 per cent of part-time workers.

Perhaps the most striking difference between minority/non-minority groups, however, is the proportion of female IT specialists that had taken part-time work due to an inability to find full-time jobs, which was less than a quarter of that registered amongst males in IT positions.

General observations - skills

Given that the likelihood of skills matching is lower amongst IT specialists than amongst other workers it might be hoped that the incidence of education / training amongst IT professionals would be above the norm.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that this is not the case and whilst 24 per cent of workers in the UK received some form of education/training during any of the four quarters of 2016, the figure for IT specialists was lower at 22 per cent.

The arguments for greater inclusion

What really needs to be said here? We know that greater inclusion is the right thing to do; research shows benefits to organisations, and it’s legislated anyway.

Some interesting thoughts apply specifically to IT though. As a general rule IT specialists are more highly educated than other UK workers - with 70 per cent thought to hold a HE qualification - against 44 per cent in the workforce generally.

Indeed, for non-whites this figure rises to 87 per cent; with over 50s at 65 per cent; the disabled at 59 per cent and females at 70 per cent. All far beyond the general UK workforce.

The skills shortage in IT actually demands greater inclusion. The number of positions for IT specialists has grown at a rate well above the norm, so it is unsurprising that the IT sector has been dogged by reports of related skills shortages.

In 2016 the ONS Ecommerce Survey suggested that amongst UK enterprises that had sought to recruit staff with IT specialist skills, 34 per cent had experienced difficulty filling some or all of these positions.

BCS’s research shows where the industry could start with its search.

The full research is available to BCS members by logging into bcs.org