Closed minds shut women out of IT
By Laura Frewin
Women are put off a career in IT because they see the industry as inherently sexist and the atmosphere as macho.
Research from the E-skills NTO (National Training Organisation) shows that the main reason people choose a career in IT is because of their interest in the subject.
It speculated that a lack of confidence in understanding what lies beneath the surface of applications tends to make women feel that IT is complicated and beyond their reach.
But Anne Farrell, IT manager for the Computing Services and Software Association, said that her own experiences were far removed from these descriptions.
“I haven’t encountered any overt sexism nor found that I have been discriminated against in terms of pay or promotion opportunities. There is less sexism internally in IT departments – it comes more from external contacts such as vendors,” she said.
Female IT students feel that the industry is male orientated through choice rather than because there is a barrier to women entering, the research found. This view was echoed by several companies at the recent Women in IT event.
The companies said they did not discriminate against women, but that CVs from women simply weren’t coming in.
Gilly Bartrip, senior learning and skills manager at the Government’s South East England Development Agency, commented: “Attracting women to IT must be led by demand. Employers must want the change, and women must want to move into IT.”
Farrell explained that she was not initially attracted by a career in the industry, but always had a healthy interest in all things technical.
“At school, we weren’t positively encouraged to get into the IT industry, but I was always interested in the technical side of things. I wasn’t put off by the negative, nerdy image of the industry,” she said.
“It’s true that there are quite a number of so-called ‘geeky’ people in the IT world, but there is much more diversity in the industry than people think,” she added. “There are many different kinds of people working in the field today. These days, you need good communication skills and business acumen, as well as technical expertise.”
Lucy Marcus, founder of HighTech women, said that employers paid lip service to diversity, but that she wasn’t convinced it was the case in practice. “Companies need more internships so that women can try IT jobs. If they don’t like it, then fine,” she said.
Women already working in the IT sector should promote the industry to others, she added, so that they can make informed decisions.
In tune with many comments from the event, Farrell thought that women, especially those with children, were put off by the perception that a career in IT involved long hours.
“Much of this image springs from the truth – the job can sometimes involve long working hours. In general, I think women want more people-orientated roles, although in a lot of cases women are extremely good and methodical in technical roles. They do themselves more damage than anyone else does,” she said.
HURDLES WOMEN FACE
- It’s a male-dominated industry – the number of women in the profession is decreasing
- Boring ‘geeky’ image is deterring women from entering into networking
- Women generally prefer more people-orientated jobs that are less technical
- Lack of childcare facilities or flexible working are major constraints
- Sexist men – not necessarily in IT departments but the industry as a whole
- Lack of promotion opportunities – many women get stuck at the helpdesk level
- Perception of long working hours, unequal pay and a macho environment
- Women are not well represented on computer science degrees or in engineering.