In 2014, a partnership report from trade body BCS and e-skills UK suggested that the lack of females taking IT related qualifications has impacted the proportion employed in related occupations. Echoing the data found in the report, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has recently found that the number of women within the digital sector has fallen from 33 per cent in 2002 – below the UK average of 47 per cent.
Iain Wood, public affairs manager at TalkTalk, said this meant there were often more iPads in the room than women.
The shortfall comes at a time where skilled staff are in high demand, the research suggested, as there are more vacancies in digital and creative than across the economy as a whole. The UKCES projected that 1.2m people will be needed to fill jobs in the sector by 2022. Some 800,000 of those new workers will be needed to replace workers leaving the industry. If current trends continue, UKCES claimed that by 2022 the proportion of workers in the digital sector would have risen to 30 per cent.
At the same time, the research highlighted that 40 per cent of employers had lost business due to not being able to fill posts. The drop in numbers has occurred despite “a number of initiatives that are already encouraging girls to take up coding, or to get involved with computer clubs and so on”, said Aoife Luanaigh co-author of the report.
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“For the report, we spoke to a lot of employers, we analysed a lot of data, and it’s not really clear why the proportion of women has been dropping in the digital sector,” she said. “In part, it’s a reflection of the gender balance of people going on to do related courses at university or at further education colleges.”
This was backed up by research from the House of Lords, which explained that of the 4,000 students who took computer science at A level, less than 100 were girls. Furthermore, the University and Colleges Admissions Service found that in 2014, 17,300 more men than women had entered computer science, and 20,300 more men entered engineering. In both these areas men made up over 85 per cent of acceptances.
The House of Lords noted that one of the main causes for the difficulty in attracting women to digital and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) occupations is that they are seen as largely male-dominated roles. This came hand-in-hand with the need to increase the visibility of women in digital jobs and make greater use of female role models.
The UK Digital Skills Taskforce and TeenTech CIC said: “Most people have heard of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg but struggle to cite a female role model. It is hardly surprising that we have digital skills shortages given that we are failing to make the most of the talents of almost half of the potential workforce.”
Parents were also shown to be a crucial influence. A survey of over 5,000 school pupils found 43 per cent of respondents turned to parents as their most significant source of advice on possible careers, the House of Lords report suggested.
It was said that parents had a negative perception of work in digital and STEM areas, and did not perceive them as a proper career. A survey by O2 in June 2014 questioned over 2,000 parents, and discovered that 38 per cent would prefer their children to pursue traditional career routes.
The UKCES concluded that increasing the number of women working in information technology could generate an extra £2.6bn to the economy each year.
Know any inspirational females? The First Women Awards is the UK’s premium awards programme focused on senior-level business women and professionals, which will take place on 11 June in London. The awards are hosted by the CBI and Real Business, and are held in association with Lloyds Banking Group.
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