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Women are key to unlocking ICT skills gap


More women need to be recruited into careers in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to redress the skills gap, Margaret Jay, Minister for Women, said today (Thursday 10 Nov.).

Margaret Jay was speaking at the Women’s Unit‘s Women in IT seminar involving leading employers including Microsoft, IBM and Sun Microsystems, as well as academics and women returners. The seminar, at Microsoft’s UK Headquarters in Reading, focused on recruitment, retention and progression of women in the industry.

Key issues that were discussed included:

  • The male image of ICT
  • How to attract more women into ICT
  • Work:life balance issues
  • The advancement of women to key positions in the ICT industry

Statistics about women in ICT:

  • The International Data Corporation has forecast that by 2003 the UK ICT sector will have 330,000 vacancies (Europe’s Growing IT Crisis, IDC, March 2000).
  • Within the IT sector as a whole women only account for 24% of the workforce, down from 29% in 1994 (Labour Force Survey, March 2000).
  • Of all ICT employees, only 26% are female full-time workers, compared with 66% who are male full-time workers (Labour Force Survey, March 1999).
  • Women constitute 27% of the total number of trainee programmers and only 8% of principal programmers are female (Panteli, A. Stack, J. & Ramsay, H 1999 ‘Gender and Professional Ethics in the IT Industry’ Journal of Business Ethics 22).
  • In 2000, 61.2% of women achieved grades A*-C at GCSE in Information Technology compared with 53.9% of men (DfEE, 2000).
  • At A-Level only 15% of computer studies entrants are women (DfEE, 1997/98) and in 1999/2000 women made up only 25% of entrants to Computer Science courses at Higher Education Institutions (A Report on Women and ICTs for PAT 15, July 1999).

Margaret Jay said:

“Technology is revolutionising our lives both as users and exploiters. The ICT sector is a major success story both for individual companies and for the UK economy as a whole. But the sector is suffering from a serious skills shortage.”

“Women account for less than a quarter of the ICT workforce and this proportion is on the decline. The key to redressing the skills shortage, now and in the future, is to encourage more women to enter the ICT sector. That’s why we’re here today to tackle the issues and decide what action we need to take.”

“While women remain under-represented in Information Technology the industry is missing out on enormous potential. We need to ensure women’s talent is harnessed and used to the benefit of the industry and the economy as a whole. But it’s not just about recruitment, ICT companies also need to retain and promote their female staff in order to sustain the pace of growth in the industry.”

“Women are still paid just 82% of men’s pay. Ensuring women enter better paid sectors of the economy is a vital part of tackling the pay gap. We want women to have access to good, well-paid jobs across the board – in ICT and other male-dominated areas.”

“Although the ICT industry itself is in the driving seat it is also an issue of concern to Government which is why we’re working towards eliminating gender stereotyping in our classrooms and workplaces. Three leading IT companies who are here today – Microsoft, IBM and Sun Microsystems – are running “taster days” as part of the Women’s Unit’s programme to give girls work experience in non-traditional sectors. Microsoft have also recently discussed with Tessa Jowell how the New Deal can deliver more skilled employees into the ICT sector. We’re also working with students to encourage them to consider IT as a career through initiatives like 21st Century Women, IT’s your life and in the South East, Project Gemini.”

“We’re also acting to make technology available to women through learning centres in places convenient for them like schools and supermarkets, by connecting all our public libraries to the Internet and discounting computer literacy courses.”

“It is important for business that women’s potential is exploited from shop floor to senior management. Those sectors where women are not equally represented are losing out on a huge resource of untapped talent. Women are essential to the success of UK plc.”

Neil Holloway, Managing Director of Microsoft UK, added:

“Women are currently under represented in the IT industry and companies operating in this sphere need to create the right environment to attract and retain women. At Microsoft we are already tackling key issues such as career development, training needs and the home/work balance.”

“Young girls at school today are already being educated in an environment with greater access to IT than previous generations. The IT industry needs to actively encourage them to perceive IT as an interesting, challenging and ultimately rewarding career if we want to combat the skills gap already identified.”

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