The number of women enrolled in training courses preparing them to work in the tech industry has not changed for 30 years, an MP has told the House of Commons.
Ahead of a debate last Friday on “attracting girls to ICT careers”, Labour MP and former shadow minister for innovation Chi Onwurah warned that Britain's tech sector was missing out on the vital input of women.
The debate heard that between 2001 and 2011 the percentage of tech jobs held by women declined from 22 per cent to 17 per cent.
Onwurah spent 23 years working as a professional engineer specialising in telecoms. The MP is concerned that women are not choosing to enter the tech sector. She claimed Google and Microsoft failed to even tell her how many women they employed.
“The lack of women represents a loss to society of the types of ICT that might come from non-male minds," she said. "I do not hesitate to say that having an ICT workforce more representative of humanity must result in technology which is more humane. All too often technology is imposed on us aggressively and before it is fit for purpose. And yes, I am thinking of automatic tills at supermarkets when I say that.
“But there is an additional, intangible, but hugely important loss: technology will never have the position it merits at the heart of our society and economy if it remains the preserve of such a narrow section of society. Given the economic, climatic and social challenges we face as a nation, it is imperative that ICT graduates from its current position as an exclusively male eccentricity.”
Figures released by a leading IT recruitment firm backed up her claims, revealing that the number of women choosing to take up jobs in the technology sector is declining.
Figures from CWJobs' latest "user profile" survey showed that 16.2 percent of job seekers were women - down from 16.5 percent the previous year.
Richard Nott, website director of CWJobs, said:
“We have conducted similar surveys for six years and have seen numbers stagnate. Based on our figures, every year the number of women in IT appears to have been around the 16 percent mark. There has been no increase in the years we have been conducting these surveys.
“I think it would be a healthier and stronger industry if there was a better ratio of men to women.”
Further research from CWJobs conducted at the end of 2012 showed that two thirds of IT workers thought the industry was “overtly” unattractive to women, while a similar amount reckoned not enough was being done to change this perception.
The 2012 survey also showed that people looking for work with CWJobs are more negative about women’s prospects in the technology sector than they were in 2010.
Some 70 per cent of respondents thought that stereotypes about IT being a “male dominated” job deterred women from an industry which half of respondents thought had a “geeky” image. More than half of all respondents (55 per cent) thought there was a “fair representation” of women in IT.
The survey, conducted at the end of 2012, was markedly more negative about female prospects in the IT and technology sector than a similar one conducted in 2010, just after the Equality Act was introduced to toughen up laws against gender discrimination. ®