Spotlight on: women in IT

Women make up under 30% of the information and communications technology (ICT) workforce, and only 15.5% of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

Increasing the number of women working in information technology (IT) could generate an extra £2.6 billion each year, according to a report from the Select Committee on Digital Skills*. But there are a number of stumbling blocks – notably education and careers guidance – which need to be overcome.

The Chartered Institute for IT (BCS), notes the report, found that of 4,000 students who took computer science at A level, less than 100 were girls. The University and Colleges Admissions Service, meanwhile, found that in 2014, 17,300 more men than women entered computer science, and 20,300 more men entered engineering. In both of these fields men made up over 85% of acceptances.

This is an interesting affirmation of a 2013 ONS (Office of National Statistics) report which found male graduates in the UK earning an average of £3 more per hour than women. The ONS found that of the top five subjects associated with the highest average gross annual earnings, ‘four of them were subjects which male graduates are more likely to have studied than female graduates’. And the subjects? Engineering, Physical/Environmental Sciences, Maths/Computer Science and Architecture.

One of the main difficulties in attracting women to digital and STEM occupations would appear to be their perception as largely male-dominated roles and that tech roles are often seen as ‘jobs for the boys’. Compounding this is a misconception of what digital and STEM jobs are in reality. As the Select Committee’s report points out, the range of jobs is huge and varied (see below). The Select Committee’s findings are that the current lack of women in digital and STEM is holding back UK competitiveness: “We agree with our witnesses that increasing the numbers of women could reap significant benefits. Girls have to be engaged earlier and across all education levels. The perception of digital and STEM jobs and subjects as male-orientated must be addressed.”

EXAMPLES OF NON-TRADITIONAL STEM PROFESSIONS

  • Computer animator – computer animation generates animated images by using computer graphics. It can include: computer visualisation; computer animation arts; and digital effects.
  • Cosmetic chemist – a cosmetic chemist formulates cosmetic products such as shampoo, skin cream etc.
  • Forensic scientist – forensic skills are used in areas including archaeology, food and engineer pharmaceuticals, criminal justice and at disaster scenes.
  • Forensic engineering: is the investigation of materials, products, structures or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property.
  • Architect – architects now use digital tools to generate and evaluate design and fabricate complex assemblies.
  • Electrical engineer – an electrical engineer on, for example, the railway uses latest design software systems and state of the art technology to develop train design. They will also work on live dynamic testing simulated on the computer and in test facilities.

Following on from the first ITP Women in Telecoms Award, Telecoms Professional spoke with three different women in three very different roles for their take on women in the industry. You can read the full article here 

 *Select Committee on Digital Skills. Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future, 17 February 2015 Full Report

 

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