Jan Peters, BCS Women's Forum manager, is setting up a women in IT programme for the BCS to build a profession that is good for women and better for all.

Or so Ian Dury sang in the 80s. It's difficult to see what that might be during the long dark days of  January echoing to the dull thud of the credit card bills hitting the doormat. And even more so when you review the statistics on the IT professional workforce and look at women's participation in it.

But perhaps being part of a profession that is central to the fabric of our society that is set to expand is the best place to be.

IT and telecoms is central to the UK economy and a key source of competitiveness for all sectors. It opens up new markets, increases performance and drives productivity. The UK’s IT industry alone produces an annual gross value added (GVA) of £30.6 billion, 3 per cent of the total UK economy. The continued adoption and exploitation of ICT has the capacity to generate an additional £35 billion of GVA to the UK economy over the next five to seven years.

In partnership with Experian, e-skills UK’s 2008 employment forecasts work identified the need for around 141,000 new entrants into IT and telecoms professional job roles every year through to 2012. A minimum of around 27,000 of those jobs need to be filled by people joining from education.

The BCS, working with e-skills and Intellect, has compiled the UK's first annual scorecard of statistics for the IT professional workforce. This scorecard is central evidence to support and measure the impact of concerted action to tackle the leaking pipeline to a robust and vibrant profession.

"We are worried about falling numbers of young people and women entering the profession. We need to understand more about these numbers, and ensure that for any interventions we implement that we have the metrics to monitor our progress to check what works" Dr Hannah Dee, Dr Karen Petrie Chair & Deputy Chair, BCSWomen.

Women represent 45 per cent of the UK working population but only 21 per cent of the IT industry workforce. The representation of women in the IT profession demonstrates a similar picture to that seen in many other sectors, with low numbers at the most senior levels.

  • Men outnumber women in the IT industry by nearly 4:1.
  • Women account for around one in every five IT professionals.
  • In higher education women account for 25 per cent of lecturing staff and 12 per cent of  professorial staff teaching computer science/IT related subjects.
  • In 2008 there were 17,455 male and just 1,581 female chartered IT professionals - 8 per cent female.

What is of major concern is the fall in the number of women as the profession continues to expand.  What is not clear are the reasons behind the fall. Perceptions of the profession, experiences of the workplace culture, difficulty in managing a career break - the losses may coincide with entrants from the late 90s taking a baby break or because of disillusionment or a career change. Current figures show:

  • In the IT industry the number of males has fallen by 26,000 while the number of females has fallen by 42,000 since 2001.
  • In IT occupations the number of males has increased by 77,000 while the number of females has fallen by 28,000 since 2001.
  • In the IT workforce, the number of males has fallen by 23,000 while the number of females has fallen by 53,000 since 2001.

Does it matter?

As an IT manager, or employer what does this mean to you? And does it matter if there are fewer  women in the profession? The predicted skills gap across Europe can be reduced to only three million if the number of women employed can be brought up to that of men. By being more open minded, flexible and enabling good staff to retire gradually employers will retain access to a broader, committed and diverse talent pool.

There are 28,000 women with IT skills out there who could be waiting to fill the skills gap created by the demographic time bomb which is about to hit the UK, but they probably can't see a way to get back in.

Building an IT workforce fit for the future demands a more sophisticated understanding of the  expectations, lives and career paths of the available talent pool: 'Gen Y,' those born since 1980, have grown up with the internet and mobile phones and are referred to as digital natives.

Of SMEs questioned in Wales 67 per cent cited improved business efficiency from diversity initiatives. Companies can access the talented pool of returners by offering accessible recruitment processes, training and post recruitment support to re-entrants to the labour market. 

Gender diversity is an asset for corporate image diversity - programmes have had a positive impact on employee motivation for 58 per cent of the companies which have implemented them, according to a European Commission report.

Of companies who implement gender diversity policies, 69 per cent report an improvement in brand image. Fifty-seven per cent of companies who implement gender diversity policies report an improvement in customer satisfaction.

IT employers that have taken positive steps to attract and retain women are reaping the rewards. The 2007 McKinsey Report ‘Women Matter’ showed companies whose boardrooms have 30 per cent or more females perform better than those with fewer.

And let’s not forget that the messages about the profession need to reach women and girls and their parents. The average weekly pay of an IT professional in 2008 is £645, while average weekly pay for non-IT professionals in the UK in 2008 is £425. IT careers offer women greater earning potential.

Attracting more women

And attracting more young women into the profession? Changes in the uptake of IT and computing at GCSE are either alarming or demonstrate a blasé attitude towards the need to study IT or computing at key stage 4. Young people are surrounded by, use and explore the use of IT continually, both within, and outside of, the formal education and find these subjects within formal education dull and irrelevant.

Nonetheless while female students taking IT related qualifications in secondary education are low in number, they consistently outperform their male counterparts. We can therefore presume that if females were more inclined to participate in IT careers then the pool of talent available to IT employers might improve noticeably.

At first glance from the perspective of women's participation in IT this data might appear alarming, and in many respects they are, but the fact remains that in a society that still undervalues women's contributions, the IT profession can provide real options for women to achieve and be rewarded.

So next time you are asked for careers advice you can answer yes, IT could be a good profession for your daughter, sister, cousin or niece to enter. It affords many opportunities, great flexibility and variety in the fields of work and financial reward.

So reasons to be cheerful? Yes I have three.

  1. Girls and young women outperform their male counterparts. Women can do IT.
  2. The IT profession has access to the technology at its fingertips to manage flexibility in the workplace.
  3. IT professionals are highly trained and continue to train and develop skills throughout the career path making it a profession that should have as many on ramps as off ramps and ideal for nonlinear careers.

But making the changes, stopping the leaking pipeline and building a diverse and vibrant profession is not something that is a job for women in the profession. It is a job for us all. As employers, employees, managers and as members of society.

Rebecca George, strategic panel chair, has announced her intent to engage with you, the BCS  membership, about what BCS needs to do, in partnership with other sector bodies, to address the history of short term, fragmented isolated initiatives to attract, engage and retain more women in IT.


  • European Social Fund and Welsh Assembly Report 2006.
  • The Hackett Group research
  • Office for National Statistics (ONS) United Kingdom Input- Output Analyses 2006 edition.
  • Technology Counts: IT & Telecoms Insights 2008, e-skills UK.
  • e-skills UK analysis of ONS LFS Q2.2008.