According to UK IT directors, the two biggest barriers faced by women working in IT are demonstrating their competence (57%) and challenging existing stereotypes (54%), finds recent research1 from Robert Half. Other challenges faced by women include overcoming impersonal/cultural considerations (42%), earning respect (30%) and working in a male-dominated environment (28%).
The findings suggest that misconceptions and stereotypes rather than concerns about technical competencies may be holding women back in the IT field. Only 8% of IT directors believe that there are no challenges for women in the sector.
Sara Newman, Operations Director at UK technical consultancy Amido, agrees that changing perceptions about the role of women in IT is vital: “The shortage of women in IT is alarming. That’s not to say there isn’t a challenge for skilled IT professionals overall, but the number of women is far lower than it should be. Challenging the perception of the IT industry earlier on will mean that as girls grow up, they will be more receptive to a continuing their education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).”
Neil Owen, Director, Robert Half Technology, commented: “It’s an exciting time to be a working in the technology sector. Where once the technology or IT department was a distinct function to support the business, it has now become a function that enables the business to seek new opportunities, market share, clients and customers. We are currently working with clients in nearly every sector on digital transformation, e-commerce platforms and infrastructure upgrades. The way businesses operate today has become increasingly interwoven with their technology capabilities and skills, providing new opportunities for those in the field, as demand continues to outpace supply.
Robert Half’s research reveals that there will be strong progress towards greater parity between men and women working within the IT industry. This will be driven by initiatives taken by the industry itself and by individual companies, including British Gas, which launched its own Women in Tech network in July 2016 to enable its female employees working in STEM roles to network and collaborate.
While a fifth (20%) of IT directors say that men will continue to hold the majority of both staff and leadership roles in technology, almost half (47%) see a future where women will reach parity for staff roles, while a quarter (26%) of professionals believe women will match or exceed the number of men in both staffing numbers and leadership roles.
Sara Newman adds: “The IT industry has developed a reputation where many think it’s all about squirrelling away in the dark writing code. While this is still a viable career path for some, it isn’t the only option. There are a number of roles that require project management or business analysis, or are purely management positions where you don’t have to be a purely ‘techy’ person. In some cases it can even be a benefit to the position for you not to be highly technical so you can bring the right perspective to a business objective or challenge.”
200 UK technology directors were asked: “In your opinion, what will be the future for women in the technology field/industry?”
Neil Owen concludes: “It’s encouraging to see that many businesses are seeing the positives of a balanced workforce and as such many firms are encouraging diversity among their teams. The insights a balanced workforce can provide in terms of perception, collaboration and problem solving can be beneficial for the overall success of any initiative. The first hurdle to achieving this, as our research suggests, is getting to that stage within the technology industry may take some years. This will require a commitment to providing female IT professionals the support they need thrive – whether it be through networking opportunities, strong mentorship or training opportunities – we need a solution that enables the technology sector to grow the available pool of talent.”