Griffiths, M and Moore, K
The women in IT (WINIT) final report
, Project Report,
University of Salford, Salford.
The Women in IT (WINIT) project was funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) from March 2004 until April 2006 under
HE ESF Objective 3: Research into equal opportunities in the labour market. Specifically the project came under Policy Field
2, Measure 2: Gender discrimination in employment. The project was run in the Information Systems Institute of the
University of Salford. One of the Research Associates has an information systems (IS) background, the other has a
background in sociology. We begin this report with an overview of the current situation with regards women in the UK IT
Whilst gender is only recently being recognised as an issue within the mainstream IS academic community, thirty years of
female under-representation in the ICT field in more general terms has received more attention from academics, industry
and government agencies alike. Numerous research projects and centres (such as the UK Resource Centre for Women in
Science, Engineering and Technology) exist to tackle the under-representation of women in SET careers, although the
figures for women’s participation in the ICT sector remain disheartening, with current estimates standing at around 15%
(EOC 2004). Various innovative initiatives, such as e-Skills’ Computer Clubs for Girls, appear to have had little impact on
these low female participation rates. Additionally, these and other initiatives have been interpreted as a means to fill the
skills gap and ‘make up the numbers’ to boost the UK economy (French and Richardson 2005), resulting in ‘add more
women and stir’ solutions to the ‘problem’ of gender in relation to inclusion in IS and ICT (Henwood 1996).
Given that there have been decades of equal opportunity and related policies as well as many government initiatives
designed to address the gender imbalance in IT employment patterns, sex segregation in IT occupations and pay and
progression disparity in the IT sector (including the latest initiative- a one million pound DTI funded gender and SET project),
we could be forgiven for assuming that these initiatives have had a beneficial effect on the position and number of women
in the IT workforce, and that even if we have not yet achieved gender equity, we can surely argue that there are positive
moves in the right direction. Although we do not wish to make definitive claims about the success or failure of specific
initiatives, our research, backed up by recent major surveys, paints a picture that remains far from rosy. Indeed a recent
comparative survey of the IT workforce in Germany, Holland and the UK indicates that women are haemorrhaging out of
the UK IT workforce (Platman and Taylor 2004). From a high point of 100,892 women in the UK IT workforce in 1999,
Platman and Taylor (ibid., 8) report a drop to 53,759 by 2003. As the IT industry was moving into recession anyway, the
number of men in the industry has also declined, but by nothing like as much, so the figures for women are stark.
When it comes to number crunching who is employed in the UK IT sector and when trying to make historical comparisons,
the first obstacle is defining the sector itself. Studies vary quite substantially in the number of IT workers quoted suggesting
there is quite a bit of variation in what is taken to be an IT job. The IT industry has experienced considerable expansion over
the past twenty years. In spring 2003 in Britain, it was estimated that almost 900,000 people worked in ICT firms, and there
were over 1 million ICT workers, filling ICT roles in any sector (e-Skills UK, 2003). This growth has resulted in talk of a ‘skills
shortage’ requiring the ‘maximization’ of the workforce to its full potential: ‘You don’t just need pale, male, stale guys in
the boardroom but a diversity of views’ (Stone 2004).
In spring 2003 the Equal Opportunities Commission estimated there to be 151,000 women working in ICT occupations
compared with 834,000 men (clearly using a different, much wider job definition from that of Platman and Taylor (2004))
, whilst in the childcare sector, there were less than 10,000 men working in these occupations, compared with 297,000
women (EOC 2004). It is estimated that the overall proportion of women working in ICT occupations is 15% (EOC 2004).
In the UK, Office of National Statistics (ONS) statistics indicate that women accounted for 30% of IT operations technicians,
but a mere 15% of ICT Managers and only 11% of IT strategy and planning professionals (EOC 2004). Although women
are making inroads into technical and senior professions there remains a ‘feminisation’ of lower level jobs, with a female
majority in operator and clerical roles and a female minority in technical and managerial roles (APC 2004).
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