The new BCS Diversity Report has revealed that female employees are worse off than their male counterparts in the IT sector. The report found that women make up only 17% of the industry’s workforce, and that female employees earn around £660 per week, 15% less than an average weekly salary of £780 for male workers.
Although inclusivity in IT has improved in recent years when it comes to age and ethnicity – in particular, the number of non-white workers in the industry is now 5% higher than the labour market’s average – minority groups continue to be poorly represented. The Diversity Report indicated that disabled workers make up less than 10% of employees compared to 12% across the general workforce, and found that they were paid 16% less than non-disabled, male colleagues.
The statistics also differ from region to region. Compared to the rest of the UK, Scotland’s performance is slightly more promising with respect to gender and age-related inclusivity, with women accounting for 20% of the national IT sector’s workforce, and those aged 50 or over making up 24% of employees, the third highest in the UK. However, Scotland performs poorly when it comes to ethnic diversity. Only 8% of the industry’s workforce is non-white, compared to 31% of tech workers in London.
A Male Dominated Culture
That the underrepresentation of minority groups is an ongoing issue is deeply worrying for many in the IT sector. Talat Yaqoob is director of Equate Scotland, an organization which seeks to facilitate the entry of women into STEM industries. Yaqoob and Equate Scotland’s work in the area has found that “a lack of flexibility in work hours, a male dominated culture or casual sexism and a lack of parity with male colleagues for promotion opportunities, all play a role in in turning women away”.
She also suggested that IT’s inability to attract more women hinders the sector’s potential for growth, commenting that “more diverse workplaces create more productive and profitable organisations”.
As The Diversity Report indicates, the IT industry has been plagued with a significant skills shortage, with over a third of employers claiming they found it difficult to source enough skilled candidates to fill specialist positions. Other recent studies into the sector’s persistent inequality have also found that too few women – only 18% in Scotland – choose to pursue Computing Science in school, with even fewer completing a degree in a subject related to digital tech. Increasing the representation of minority groups in the industry could, then, go some way to bridging a skills gap which is stifling the growth of the industry in Scotland and the UK. As Yaqoob commented, “to be globally competitive in this industry, we must go even further to recruit, retain and progress women to IT”.
Misunderstandings and Misconceptions
When it comes to resolving the issue, tackling dominant stereotypes is key to fostering a more inclusive environment, according to education expert Evelyn Walker. She suggests that “We have to make IT more attractive to females at all levels of the talent pipeline but we need to start early. We need to reach out to early years girls, in order to build their confidence and to show them how much they could achieve in roles as diverse as software engineering, data analysis and web development.
“Technology can be embedded in a range of areas such as music, english, science, and the arts – just as it is in the real world, outside of the classroom. By doing this we can challenge misunderstandings and misperceptions about the nature of jobs in IT sector and encourage girls to choose a career path in digital technology”
“A concerted effort is therefore required by industry, education and the public sector working together to promote positive role models and eliminating the perceived barriers that can prevent talented individuals from pursuing digital technology careers.
“We need to communicate the huge variety of digital technology roles available across the economy. There are so many exciting and creative jobs open to people with digital skills, and plenty of ways to use technology to make a difference in the world.”
Commenting upon the figures in the report, Svea Miesch, Research and Policy Manager for ScotlandIS told DIGIT: “It is disappointing to see that the share of women in digital technology roles remains at such a low level. However, public sector, education institutions and industry started working more closely together to tackle this problem in Scotland.
“Various initiatives, like best practice guides for employers and mentoring programmes for girls, are underway and more is planned to support greater female participation at all parts of the talent pipeline. This has already raised more awareness for the issue but it takes time to see the impact of these actions on the number of women in digital technology job, so we need to be persistent to effectively tackle this gender gap.”
Ahead of the Curve
Focusing on Scotland, Vicky Brock, founder, innovator and serial entrepreneur Vicky Brock told DIGIT that the issue of diversity is now being recognised in Scotland: “I think it is being recognised thanks to the amazing work of groups like Women’s Enterprise Scotland – I’m biased, as I am now a proud WES Ambassador.
“It is groups like them that have got this being discussed in the Scottish Parliament. But visibility is only the first step, it has to be taken seriously and addressed by firms of all sizes. And not just at employee level, executive level too (I have some hair curling examples of executive pay inequalities from my own direct personal experience).
“Is it a real issue? Hell yes. Is enough being done? Not yet. But intelligent conversation happening in parliament is moving us ahead of the curve in UK terms.”
Work In Progress
Claire Gillespie, key sector manager for Digital Skills at Skills Development Scotland highlighted many of the projects and activities already being undertaken in Scotland to address these issues: “Like much of the UK, Scotland is suffering from a gender imbalance within its digital technology sector. Our recent research shows that currently women make up just 18% of our digital workforce, which is just not enough.
“However, our research has also shown that there are opportunities to engage with women and a lot is being done to try and tackle this gender gap, with support being made available at every stage of the talent pipeline.
“The Digital Xtra Fund, which is supported by The Digital Technologies Skills Group, is providing funding support to a number of brilliant digital initiatives that aim to get young women in schools engaged and inspired in STEM subjects.
“Our research has revealed the importance of role models to female tech employees, so we have made available an array of resources that young women can use to become role models to the next generation of female tech professionals.
“There’s also our ‘Best Practice Guide’, which has been made available to employers across Scotland looking to take on the gender challenge. This guide is intended as a source of support, guidance and advice for employers looking to attract, recruit and retain female tech talent.
“While it is still early days, we are seeing momentum build across Scotland, with the Government, public sector organisations, industry and educators working together to tackle the gender gap head on.”
The Scotland Women in Technology board summed up: “If we were making the pace of gender equality change required in the tech sector then organisations like ours would not be required. 18% representation of women is far too low and Scotland’s industry is missing out on the talents and expertise women have to offer.
“That’s why we champion women through our events and annual awards ceremony; to showcase them as role models and encourage the sector to strive to do more outreach and engagement. We look forward to even more employers working with us to achieve our aims for women”