Is it right that we are still discussing women in IT as a standalone topic in 2020? The dawn of a new decade demands a hard look at why this subject continues to require special attention.
According to the training and job website Women in Tech, “Only one in six tech specialists in the UK are women, only one in ten leaders and, worse still, despite significant growth in the number of women working in IT roles, female representation in the technology sector has stalled over the last ten years.”
This is quite startling. Are women struggling to find these opportunities or are employers not making them attractive to women? And why later on, are women not reaching their full potential?
Well, the problem could derive from much earlier in life. The STEM Women campaign group quotes the most recent university entrance UCAS statistics on its website, showing that 35 per cent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) students in higher education in the UK are women. But when you look further into the statistics, you find that the two subjects suffering the most from a lack of women are engineering and technology & computer sciences. Both subjects comprise just 19 per cent female students.
STEM Women says, “The computer science and engineering & technology fields show the largest gender imbalances, from current students to graduates and the workforce figures, and we’re on a mission to address this gender imbalance.” And they’re doing so by using this UCAS data to specifically attract female STEM students and invite them to networking and graduate careers events.
But there are more positives the younger one goes. In 2019, the number of girls choosing to take computing at GCSE level increased for the second consecutive year. The number of female candidates rose from 15,046 in 2018 to 17,158 in 2019, with girls now comprising 21 per cent of GCSE computing entries, so perhaps our schools are where we need to make the greatest impact?
Women in Tech also quotes a report from Nominet, the registry for UK domain names, which said that the core benefits most likely to come from hiring more women into IT were “improved communications skills, innovative ideas and boosted morale.” That said, those aren’t necessarily solely female traits and we may not want to paint that picture – women can tire of constantly being associated with these softer and more emotional skills and equally men can also tire of being thought of as lacking those skills. But they can be life changing for a company, bringing team solidarity, positive can-do attitudes and a sense of belonging.
I’ve just joined Integrator Housing Solutions as their new operations director. I come from an organisational background as executive assistant to the chief executive of Oxfam GB where I was liaising with government departments, managing and reconciling budgets, coordinating internal logistics and office management with an overview of data analysis.
Although we are a small company, over 40 per cent of our staff are now female. Our accounts coordinator, Susan Edge, has worked for the company for around three years. She’s not directly working in IT but she is our link between our IT team and our clients. She said, “I come from a communications background so coming into IT has been a challenge. I have learnt so much from our IT team because they’ve spent time explaining what they do and how they do it.”
More recently, we were joined by Claire Gough as our new web applications developer and she is a very good example of women working directly in IT. She completed a computer science degree before specialising in software development and agrees that Integrator is attractive to women in the housing IT sector because they are progressive in their working practices and attitudes. She said, “I really enjoy programming and here I can get my teeth into software which is constantly developing, and refining. IT in housing is an exciting sector to be in at the moment – we’re seeing a lot of change as the world becomes ever more digitally reliant, and our focus on mobile anytime, anywhere access is also having a huge effect on the way we’re creating and providing software.
“Personally, I have never experienced any problems being female in this sector and am certainly enjoying the role and responsibilities I am gaining here – long may it continue!”
The IT sector has traditionally been a male-dominated arena but I believe that Integrator is one company that’s helping to lead the way by welcoming, attracting, and retaining people, whether female or male. We champion a flexible approach to working, including working from home; our mentality isn’t about when you get the job done, it’s about how you get the job done.
Helen Harrison is the operations director of Integrator Housing Solutions.