The future of women in IT


There is some great technology out there but unfortunately we don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future (hopefully a female technologist will invent one!) However if we did have one, we’d use it to see where women in IT would be in the future.

A report by the Government Equalities Office says that almost two thirds of UK businesses are missing out on female talent and suffering as a consequence. It also revealed that if we continue at the current rate of progress it will take 60 years for there to be an equal number of men and women in senior roles! If the government has recognised that this needs to change (which it seems it has with Gordon Brown saying there are too few women in Britain’s boardrooms), then shouldn’t we be doing more about it?

In our recent survey we asked our female technologists what they thought would happen to women in IT over the next five years – we got some interesting and different answers:

  • Shortage of new entrants because Science and Technology is not popular in schools, not seen as a girl-thing.
  • More women in very senior roles.
  • I think the number of women will increase as the younger generation is very much the digital native generation; however the level to which it increases relies on our intervention now.
  • They will continue to lead & be innovative but will not always get credit for it or equality of pay.
  • There will be more in the industry, more start up IT businesses with women CEOs.
  • One respondent simply said “not much”.

Which crystal ball prediction do you agree with? And what would you like to see done to give women in IT a boost?

Parliamentary quotas

It seems that we may be moving a step closer to quotas for women in politics. A cross-party conference has announced that if there’s not a significant increase in the number of female MPs at the next election, mandatory legal quotas should be brought in. The conference also suggested the introduction of non-mandatory ethnic minority shortlists and said that parliament is currently: “too white, middle-class, heterosexual, male and able-bodied”. Only 20% of MPs in the UK are female compared to much higher figures of 47% in Sweden and 38% in Denmark and democracy is under threat unless the government becomes more representative, according to the report from the Daily Mail.

Positive discrimination is always a tricky subject. It is not ideal to implement it, but sometimes it is necessary to give minorities, such as women, the chance to be seen and heard. Former MP Ann Widdecombe is one of the critics saying: “What matters is the merit they bring. We really cannot have targets for particular categories. It’s frankly insulting because it suggests women and ethnic minorities cannot get there on their own merit.”

Of course merit is important – even if quotas are introduced, I don’t doubt for one second that any women becoming MPs will get there unless they are suitably qualified and experienced. But the fact remains that, at the moment, politics is an arena where it’s crucial to have a gender balance but that gender balance is currently a long way off. And quotas could be a great way to bring about that balance. The question is: what does a ‘significant increase’ in female MPs at the next election mean exactly? And would quotas ever be brought introduced in the UK or is this just talk?

The gender pay gap – again!

And so another story on the gender pay gap. The good news? The gender pay gap has narrowed over the past year and is apparently at an all time low. The bad news? It has only dropped by 1%. Let’s look at the main stats that the ONS has published:

  • Hourly wage rates have increased for full time female workers by 4% to £13.43
  • Hourly wage rates for full time male workers have increased by only 2.8% but are still higher at £16.07
  • Gender pay gap is in favour of women working part time who earn an average of £156 a week as opposed to £144 for men
  • Pay gap is now 16.4%
  • Public sector pay increased by 3% compared to 1% in private sector

Despite the fact that I know there is definitely a gender pay gap, I am always a little skeptical about the accuracy when looking at these figures – because I wonder if they compare like for like. For example – do they compare salaries of a male computer programmer with their female equivalent? Or do they compare a CEO with a receptionist?

However when reading this article I noticed the point that was raised by Harriet Harman, who is quoted as saying “Most women work part-time because they juggle the important work of looking after children and older relatives. That’s where the discrimination really bites.” The article then states: “The TUC calculates that there is a part-time gender pay gap of 35.2%, based on comparing the hourly earnings of men working full-time (£16.07) with women working part-time (£10.40).”

I thought this was really insightful . Yes a lot of women are getting paid less because they work less hours and yes the gender pay gap here is positive. But there is an inherent problem with this setup –the fact is that the corporate world makes it difficult for many women with family responsibilities to return to work, leading them to part time roles which pay them substantially less than they’d get if they returned to work full time. Once again it links back to the same issues: maternity and paternity leave and more support in the workplace. But as Harriet Harman says herself, the Equality Bill will help women progress even further. Let’s hope she’s right.

Mothers Betrayed?

I have to confess to being more than a little disappointed at the views expressed by Nichola Pease  in the press recently suggesting that women were ‘wrecking their careers’ by taking their full 12 months maternity leave.  Ms Pease , who a mother of three is deputy chairman of JO Hambro was giving evidence to a treasury select committee investigating sexism in the City.  “Legislation  is turning into a nightmare – I think we have got too long maternity leave – a year is too long!”  She also felt that the practice in Norway, where businesses are required by law to give 40% of their board positions to women, are flawed.

What really disappoints me is the implied view that the legislation we have in place is there in some way to pander to the fact that women have children.  What about the business case for harnessing and retaining the skills that so many women have in the workplace?  And what about the hard evidence?  US research has shown that Fortune 500 companies with the highest proportion of female directors are more profitable and efficient than those with the lowest. And according to research by McKinsey, the strategy consultancy, European organisations with the highest proportion of women in influential leadership roles, showed better than average financial performance.

Perhaps Ms Pease ought to take a look! 

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Equal Pay Day

A date for your diaries – 30th October is equal pay day, as I found from the new blog by the Fawcett Society. It’s not just a day to highlight the gender pay gap, it’s the day when effectively women in the UK get their last pay cheque of the year. And no, unfortunately we aren’t getting two months off to start Christmas early. It’s because the gender pay gap of over 17% is equivalent to men being paid for the whole year, and women only getting paid up until the end of October. Shocking statistic isn’t it?

If you want to get involved, go to the Equal Pay Day blog equalpayday@wordpress.com and see what you can do.

More paternity leave in store?

Could this be the step forward that we need?

The FT reported this morning that the government has backed more flexible parental leave, allowing women who return to work after six months to transfer the remaining maternity leave to their partners. This means instead of the mere two weeks leave that men are now entitled to, they will instead be able to take up to six months – three paid and another three unpaid. This would also apply to gay couples.

This is somewhat of a breakthrough. At W-Tech, one member of the audience came out with a statement and her shock and frank words summed up the current situation. She said: “I’ve been living in Sweden since 2003 – how much time do guys here get for paternity leave? Is it two weeks or something? In Sweden a guy can take up to one and a half years – there’s no discussion about who’s at home with the kids, you both are.”

This seems like a major step forward in the battle for equality – but as always, the war is not yet won. Many businesses are not happy about the changes due to the ‘administrative nightmare’ that it could cause them. And there is still speculation as to how many men would take advantage of the leave. But regardless, this news is definitely a step in the right direction and gives some very real hope for the future.

What do you think? Will we move towards a world where men and women will share the family responsibilities? Or will the women that reach the top continue to be the ones who have made the big sacrifices? Would you be happy to give some of your leave to your partner? Or are the gender roles that we’re in now just so long established that this move just isn’t enough?

Time to leave the City?

There have been some pretty disappointing statistics in the press over the past week when it comes to equality and the gender pay gap – especially in the finance sector. A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that women with full time roles in the City earn 55% less than their male counterparts – that’s almost double the 28% gender pay gap for the UK in general. Not only that, when it came to bonuses, the report found that men within finance received five times the performance related pay of women, taking home over £14,000 compared to under £3000 for females.

It is obviously unacceptable to have such discrepancies based on gender. But should we be surprised? It’s general knowledge that there is a gender pay gap, especially in the competitive arena that is the City. The important issue is how we deal with it. A piece in the Telegraph by Tracy Corrigan suggests that women should “give the City a miss”. She says “the disparity of earnings and the working conditions that make it so hard to combine motherhood and career advancement will continue to persuade many to take their skills elsewhere…Rather than trying to fix the City, or struggling to meet its harrowing demands, perhaps it is better to pursue other options.”

She has some valid points – a high flying career in the City is not easy, especially with family responsibilities. But is giving up really the best option? Yes it’s a difficult career, but surely women should have the option of pursuing it without facing huge levels of discrimination, if they want to? And if we tell women to give up, isn’t that effectively showing the City that the current situation is acceptable? This situation isn’t easy to change but if we keep persevering we will hopefully be able to make a difference, slowly but surely.