It will take 283 years before women make up an equal share of the tech workforce if the current trend continues, the professional body for computing has warned.
The gender gap in IT must close far more quickly – not least to make sure emerging technologies like AI reflect society, according to BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.
BCS' annual Diversity Report found that between 2018 and 2021, the proportion of women tech workers rose from 16% to 20%. But this modest improvement stalled in 2022 with the percentage of all women in the sector remaining the same, according to BCS analysis of ONS data. Black women still account for just 0.7% of the tech specialists, rising from 0.3% in 2019.
Urgent action needed
Julia Adamson, MBE, MD for Education and Public Benefit at BCS, said: "More women and girls need the opportunity to take up great careers in a tech industry that's shaping the world. A massive pool of talent and creativity is being overlooked when it could benefit employers and the economy. There has to be a radical rethink of how we get more women and girls into tech careers, and a more inclusive tech culture is ethically and morally the right thing to do.
"Having greater diversity means that what is produced is more relevant to, and representative of, society at large. This is crucial when it comes to, for instance, the use of AI in medicine or finance.
"The fact that 94% of girls and 79% of boys drop computing at age 14 is a huge alarm bell we must not ignore; the subject should have a broader digital curriculum that is relevant to all young people."
Return to office trend impact
The current return to the office trend could be one reason why the rise in women in tech has ground to a halt, said Jo Stansfield, co-chair of BCS Women and an inclusivity expert: "I believe more women joined the tech workforce during the pandemic because of increased flexibility, such as working from home.
"This meant they could balance careers with other responsibilities, such as caring for children or elderly relatives – tasks which still fall disproportionately on women. What's needed is the development of inclusive workplace policies and practices to retain our workforce and to keep building on it."
She added that it is not only women who are reluctant about returning full-time to the office. Jo also included all people with caring responsibilities, disabled people and those who need flexibility to manage health-related needs.
Black women in tech
The underrepresentation of black women is unchanged in the latest data. A previous BCS report created in partnership with the Coding Black Females group cited barriers such as a lack of flexible working, career development support, micro-aggressions and a strong 'tech bro' culture in some organisations.
Nicola Martin, a BCS and Women’s Engineering Fellow has previously described what it is like being the only black woman on a team.
BCS has earlier stated that black women are still rare in IT, and by comparison, their representation across other occupations is 2.5 times higher.
Nicola, who is included in the UKTech50 longlist and Computer Weekly 2023 Most Influential Women in UK Tech list, said: "We need more black women coming into the industry and, more importantly, wanting to stay. There needs to be a coming together of all the different pressure groups in this area to amplify the issues and work with organisations to make active change."
Part-time working lower in tech sector
Aside from a flatlining trend in female representation in IT, the BCS report also highlights the extremely low incidence of part-time working in the sector – with just 5% of tech specialists working part-time compared with 23% of workers more generally.
And, although women in IT are much more likely to work part-time than men (with figures of 13% and 3% respectively), the figure is again almost three times lower than that for women in other occupations (36%). Although not without drawbacks, such as poorer career progression and lower pay, part-time jobs can sometimes be the only option for women and others to remain in the workforce.
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There was some good news on pay in the latest BCS Diversity Report - women working in tech overall earn substantially more than those employed in other jobs, with median hourly earnings of £22 per hour compared with just £15 per hour for all female employees in full-time work.
The BCS Diversity report also includes new data on a range of other groups; it found that over 50s and people with disabilities were also under-represented in the information technology sector. BCS is due to release a study dedicated to neurodiversity in the tech workforce in the new year.
Return to the office – Petra’s story
The stark choices that some women face are illustrated by Petra (not her real name), who is considering giving up a job she loves in tech because the cost of child care and travelling could swallow most of her wages.
Petra retrained during the pandemic, choosing a tech career partly because it offered her more flexibility. She was happily working full-time from home but, like other staff, has now been told to return to the office at least 50% of the time.
The resulting strain has affected her mental health and relationships with her family: "This was the job that was supposed to fix a problem, not cause it. My position at the company has become untenable. I am now looking for a new post, which might not be in tech, which I find very upsetting. I have found this job stimulating and enjoyed working with people who have brilliant, creative minds."
"We still work under the model where women pick up most of the unpaid, caring responsibilities. As long as that exists, if there's no flexibility, women will be the first to fall off the career ladder, and we'll see the numbers of women in tech dropping."
- The almost three hundred figure relates to the extrapolation of current trends.
- The BCS Diversity Report Women in Tech chapter has the stats showing the stalling of the increase of all women tech.
- The BCS Diversity Report chapter on Ethnicity has the stats for black women in tech
- 94% of girls and 79% of boys drop computing at age 14 break down: There are around 650k young people in every year group in the UK, about 575K are in schools in England – so if this is looking at just students in England then the following can be said: In 2021/22: The GCSE (Y11 cohort in England - from here: 574,292 (state maintained schools of all types) and 283,405 of these were females, 290887 were males. And in 21/2022 TAB 4 England 78,297 students took it (12% of the cohort) https://analytics.ofqual.gov.uk/apps/GCSE/Outcomes/ 16,835 were females (22% of those taking the examination were girls) 61462 males (78% of those taking the examination were boys) Looking at the overall cohort of 575k, 13% took the GCSE CS (10% boys, 3% girls – of the overall cohort) Therefore: 16835/283405 = 6% of all girls in England took the GCSE in CS in 2021/22 = 94% drop it 61462/290887 = 21% of all boys in England took the GCSE in CS in 2021/22 = 79% drop it.
Links to the other chapters of the BCS Diversity Report: