Wanted: More women in IT
The Scotland Women in Technology (SWiT) group are committed in their mission to securing more places for women in the male dominated industry of IT, and tomorrow they are launching a new group aimed at increasing the number of women leaders in the sector, reports The Scotsman.
Silka Patel, executive assistant at Cisco, created the group.
“We hope to encourage more women into this exciting area, to develop their skills and so maximize their contribution to our economy,” she told the Scotsman.
In Scotland, women make up only a fifth of the workforce in science, engineering and technology (aka SET) and it is thought by some that the absence of women from the sector may be one reason why Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK by almost a third (30%) in productivity gains derived from the IT sector.
However, the UK combined fares even worse. According to research by eskillsUK, in 2007 only 18% of the IT workforce was female, while Equalitec, an organization devoted to increasing numbers of women in IT, believe that female representation in the sector is worsening. Their fears are echoed globally, with levels of women represented in IT across the UK and US thought to be approaching their lowest levels since the 1980′s. According to the UKRC, female representation across the whole SET sector is even lower – at just 12%.
So why are levels of women in computing and technology so low?
Research reports from the UK Resource Centre (UKRC) for women in SET point to several reasons, including the representation of science as a masculine or male arena, the lack of representation (and lack of diverse representations) of women in science as role models or trailblazers, and the reality of being ‘a woman in a man’s world’.
And the barriers to female participation in SET subjects and careers is evidenced across all ages: fewer girls and women study SET subjects at every level. Moreover, even for those women who do train in SET subjects, they are significantly less likely than men to be promoted to senior positions. According to the European Commission, women comprise less than 6% of senior staff in SET in higher education across Europe. (Thanks to UKRC for these statistics – and if this is an area you’re interested in, I would highly recommend casting an eye over their many research reports).
I’m fascinated with the low representation of women in this arena. I’m currently personally engaged in a large research project looking at gender inequality across the transition states, where gender segregation across different sectors is both commonplace and profound. Women are barely found in the science and engineering sectors, while some countries lag far behind in their development of IT at all, let alone gender equality within it. What’s fascinating to me in working on these reports is that the major barriers to female participation seem tangible – they can apply for jobs, they will not get them. Qualifications and levels of education don’t matter – women are being actively prevented from entering male-dominated sectors; sometimes there are even legal prohibitions against it.
Yet here in the UK and US, it seems as though in addition to these tangible barriers from the professions, women continue to choose to shy away from SET subjects, in our studies as well as our careers.
Is this the impact of our still gendered expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman? Is the biggest barrier of all to women in SET simply that we are conditioned to consider it unfeminine? I’d love to hear your thoughts.