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Today’s job market, post recession, is very competitive. For some companies, it doesn’t feel much like ‘post recession’, and growth is still evasive. Some are growing again and vacancies are opening up as recruitment freezes are lifted, but not all.

The public sector will remain challenging for some time, as their cuts start to bite. IT is both the enabler of savings and the engine of growth, and people with skills and experience in IT are likely to be more in demand than people with other skill sets.

IT jobs are often well paid, with opportunities for travel.

IT is integral to every business process, and IT teams interact with business teams, working together in exciting and dynamic environments to transform their companies. At a careers convention one woman computer scientist said:

‘The work is varied, stimulating, flexible and, compared to other industries, well paid. It’s a great place to be.’

However, it seems that for many women IT isn’t regarded as a great place to be, sparking debate about why there are so few women in the IT industry. BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, published a scorecard that details all the statistics about women in the IT industry – and it is very thought provoking. Only 23% of the workforce in the IT industry is female, compared to 45% across the UK’s working population. Women account for just 15% of applicants and acceptances onto computer science/IT related subjects at higher education, and they are just 9%of those taking computing A levels.

Opportunities for women in the IT industry

In school and at university, IT overall is less popular than it used to be. Fewer people overall are taking GCSE and A level computing courses, or applying to computer science or IT courses at university. But the number of people in IT occupations continues to rise.

Many employers look beyond the disciplines of computer science to recruit into IT roles – science, maths, and economics or business qualifications are considered.

For computer programming aptitude, employers will look to languages, music and classics for relevant competencies such as logical thinking, adaptability, memory and analytical capability.

Increasingly though, communications, team work, data collection and analysis, customer service, responsiveness, and presentation skills are more in demand. As women tend to be good at these things, opportunities for women in the IT industry are becoming readily available. The skills that they excel in are very much in demand and they add diversity to teams.

Furthermore, given that IT-related jobs are to be found within almost every organisation, they allow great flexibility of career choice, including in the most innovative and successful companies. You can find out ‘where women want to work’ by visiting www.www2wk.com or the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work survey that takes place each year. Some women-friendly employers recruit through Women in Technology. The site has a diary of events, hints and tips for your CV and guidance on networking.

The best employers recognise the importance of retaining their female staff and encourage women to combine families and work. With many IT jobs being shift or project based, employers are able to offer many different flexible styles of working. The investment in training staff means that employers are keen to encourage women to keep in touch and return after a career break.

Career breaks for women in the IT industry

Your work environment is especially important if you ever need a career break when options such as flexible working, home working and other family-friendly policies such as workplace nurseries become important.

It is also vital to work for a company with policies and managers who respect the need for a reasonable work/life balance.

Good employers are not exclusively big organisations; in smaller ones, colleagues are often sensitive to each others’ needs and happy to give and take.

Returning after a career break is something that can seem daunting. Confidence can be low, skills seem out of date and technology has moved on. Yet there are schemes that offer training and bursaries to help you retrain. One of the biggest benefits can be planning for your break: making sure you keep in touch by attending regional IT meetings, reading your journal or IT newsletter, or keeping up to date with online training programmes. To help, BCS has produced two guides on taking career breaks and returning to the profession.

Support for women in the IT industry

Various groups exist to support women in the IT industry. BCSWomen is an online news group that offers a CV clinic service, career development workshops and networking meetings, both technical and social. BCSWomen also offers role models, women who are happy to talk about their experiences and chat over different career options with you. As well as the BCS mentoring programme for members, BCSWomen works with MentorSET to find and train mentors for its members.

Women@CL is a project that is running events and workshops around the country. For women in research it holds the annual Hopper conference with a poster competition. Intellect is the industry body for the IT sector and it has a Women in IT Forum that has a programme of events taking place around the country every quarter, where the issues facing women in the IT industry are discussed. They are a great way to find out what is happening in the industry and to meet and network with people. Added to these are the well attended networking events by www.womenintechnology.co.uk giving women in the IT industry fabulous opportunities to network and work out their next career move.

The Institute is collaborating in Technocamps, an initiative from the Welsh universities to inspire and encourage school children to go into the STEM subjects. It also supports, along with a number of key employers, an initiative to raise the profile of the IT industry in schools, talking about the tremendous range of opportunities IT offers.

It seems that women choose IT as a profession less often than men, and less often than other minority groups. We would like to see this change, as there are many good opportunities for women in the IT industry, and it has proven to be an environment in which they flourish. The Institute will continue to focus on this area and collaborate with other partner organisations to raise the participation of women in the IT industry.

We are building a profession that is good for women and better for all.

Hear from some of the women in the IT industry:

About the Author

  • About Rebecca George: Rebecca George OBE is Vice-Chair, Policy and Public Affairs Board at the Institute, with a special responsibility for Diversity and Inclusivity. She has worked to increase the participation of women in IT for fourteen years.

Rebecca George

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