Muslim woman on computer

The numbers don’t add up.

This year’s A Level results reported that 50.3 per cent of students studying science were female so why do women only make up 16 per cent of UK’s Tech workforce? The efforts to encourage girls to engage with STEM subjects at school seem to be working but female interest drops off by the time they get to university, with only 35 per cent of STEM students in higher education in the UK being women.

Salaries are on the increase in the IT industry.  According to Global Knowledge’s IT Skills & Survey Report 2019, IT professionals earned, on average, £4,000 more this year compared to 2018.  The average global salary for an IT professional is £71,895 – the highest it’s been in the 12 years that Global Knowledge has prepared its report.  Technology can be a highly flexible career and draws upon creative, organisational, problem-solving skills. Women should be well placed to join the industry and well rewarded when they do.

Having a more diverse workforce is beneficial to the employer.  Much has been written about how important it is to have a better balance of genders, backgrounds and ages for a positive working environment.  However, the need to draw in female candidates has become even more urgent. The workplace has undergone significant change in the last decade, with outsourcing, the gig economy and technology-enabled flexible working shaking up the business world as organisations push forward to find better ways to innovate.  The next big breakthrough will come from expanding the workforce to increase its diversity, including people with different backgrounds and life experiences to influence innovation and, ultimately, improve productivity and the bottom line.

The history of the IT industry reveals some of the reasons that it has become so male-dominated.  During WWII thousands of women were hired to work with technology, in particular in computing.  Programming and software development were seen as behind the scenes roles, often done by women, and often without the status of hardware developers.  That changed dramatically when Silicon Valley became a technical Emerald City and software gurus Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became heroes.  Computer games were originally sold as toys and, as toyshops divide their products by gender, were on the boys’ aisles, sending a message from a young age that girls wouldn’t be interested.  There is also a view, perhaps unfair, that the type of men moving up the ranks in the IT profession were those who found it difficult to interact with women and so felt much more comfortable in hiring a man for a vacant role.

Despite the IT industry’s historic track record of keeping women at a distance, today we’re in a much more sought-after position.  Too many women still think IT is about creating code or running cables and I can’t stress enough how wrong that is.  My own career has challenged my intellect and people-skills, drawing on my passion for helping people and breaking new ground.  My advice?  Meet a real-life female IT professional or, better yet, try to get an internship or a chance to experience a day in the life on the job before making up your mind.  In addition, if you are wondering if you could survive in a workplace that is currently still male-dominated, here are my suggestions:

  1. Have confidence in yourself – be assertive enough to ask for what you want and push back when necessary. I think women believe if they work hard, they will be offered a new opportunity, whereas men position themselves to ask.  You are in demand so have confidence in your contribution to the IT team.
  2. Find a mentor or support group – there are many good Women in IT networking groups. Find one local to you and engage with other industry women.  A female mentor can help you build a satisfying career by sharing their experiences and helping you overcome any hurdles.
  3. Keep learning – one of the most inspiring aspects of a role in IT is the life-long learning that you will be undertaking to keep up to speed with technology advances. Ensure your skills are up to speed and find time to learn, formally and informally.
  4. Play to your strengths – there are so many skills and specialisms required within the IT industry. Don’t limit yourself by thinking that IT is only programming, or that you’ll need to successfully make your way around a motherboard to get a good job in technology. The skills most in demand at the moment, according to our survey, are cybersecurity, IT architecture and project management skills – and not a screwdriver in sight.

Rosemary Gurney picAbout the author

Rosemary Gurney is ITSM Training Consultant at Global Knowledge, a former Chair of the Board of Directors of itSMF UK, and a contributing author and examiner with Axelos.