The UK government has reiterated its pledge to redress the gender imbalance across IT, but has come under fire for adding to the problem following the Individual Learning Accounts (ILA) debacle.
Speaking at a debate in the House of Commons' second chamber, Westminster Hall, minister for ecommerce and competitiveness, Douglas Alexander, admitted that the industry was still plagued by a macho image and a 24/7 working culture.
He explained that the government is determined to open up the same opportunities to women in IT as those enjoyed by their male counterparts.
"However, we do not underestimate the extent of the challenge," said Alexander. "Too many talented girls are put off by male stereotypes of science, engineering and technology."
But Caroline Spelman, Conservative spokeswoman at the debate, and MP for Meriden, said that, although the ILA scheme could have encouraged and helped women back into a career structure late in life, widespread abuse and fraud had set the cause back some way.
"The ILA scheme seemed custom built to introduce people to IT. Indeed many of the courses were geared to computer studies and were attractive to women who had missed out on IT training earlier in their lives," she explained.
Sue Doughty, Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on women's issues, urged the government to find a replacement to ILAs as soon as possible.
"I understand that the government must not introduce something that has the same problems as before, but every delay is a delay in someone getting the training they need for the job they want," she said.
Alexander insisted that employers must face up to their "duty" to introduce working arrangements that enable women and men to balance work and family responsibilities.
"As many as 50,000 women in the UK with a degree relating to science, engineering or technology are currently not working," he said. "Of the women scientists and engineers who return to work each year, many will not take up a related occupation."
"That represents a massive waste of potential and talent and a serious blow to the nation's productivity and competitiveness," Alexander added.
But warning that employers had to shoulder some of the blame for low female representation, Doughty stated: "We have to get away from the 24/7 culture.
"There is a temptation for businesses to exploit IT people, and women feel the pinch more than men when businesses try to bring in a project sooner than is reasonable.
"Instead of employing more people, companies hope that people will work longer hours."
According to government figures, women represent almost half of the overall workforce and slightly more than half of the population in the UK, but they account for just one fifth of the workforce in IT and less than 10 per cent of high value-added jobs such as software engineering.
Doughty, who has 15 years' experience in IT project management, described being a woman in IT as like being a woman in politics.
"IT is not a naturally welcoming environment to women. The statistics show that there are 20,000 unfilled IT jobs in the UK," she explained.
"We want a mixture of people because computer users are not all men, nor are they all young or all old. Greater mixing of teams creates better systems."
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