The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has called for a concerted strategy to increase the proportion of women in IT, following research showing that only one in five IT workers is female.
An EOC investigation into gender segregation and modern apprenticeships revealed that the proportion of women in IT has recently fallen from 23 per cent to 20 per cent.
Caroline Slocock, chief executive of the EOC, said: "IT is certainly not the worst performer. In construction, only one per cent of employees are women, and in engineering the figure is eight per cent. But 20 per cent is very low when you look across the economy as a whole."
Slocock praised initiatives such as e-skills UK's Computer Clubs for Girls, which encourages female students to explore IT, but said that more needed to be done.
"[Computer Clubs for Girls] has been successful in giving girls good experience in IT and whetting their appetites," she said.
"But it's only one of a range of things that can be done. What's really needed is a concerted strategy bringing together all the different players: students, educators, employers and policymakers."
Dismissing arguments that the IT gender gap might largely be due to the different subject preferences of the sexes, Slocock said: "Some of it may come down to that, but we've seen enormous social change in relation to other traditionally male-dominated professions.
"The majority entering law and medicine are now women, for instance. I don't think there's anything natural about the gender differential in IT."
A more likely factor, she suggested, is the lack of promotional prospects for women entering the sector.
"Only 15 per cent of IT managers and 11 per cent of IT strategy planning professionals are women. This means that, on average, women in the industry earn 18 per cent less per hour than men," she said.
Slocock also criticised the pertinence of careers advice given to female students.
"Many people tend to make traditional career choices, but those choices aren't being challenged. It's clear many are unaware of the pay differentials between different industries, for example," she said.
The EOC is currently looking for the views of employers on how to improve gender equality in IT and other sectors. Further details can be found here.
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