The UK government has admitted that little progress has been made in attracting women into the IT industry.
It found that women in the 40 to 50 age group are leaving the industry, despite attempts to encourage child-friendly policies and a focus on work/life balance issues.
Although 36 per cent of new recruits in the first quarter of 2002 were women, they accounted for 46 per cent of all leavers, according to a government-backed study, Achieving Workforce Diversity in the e-Business On-demand Era.
The study was conducted by Women in IT Champions Group, an association of senior individuals from IT companies including Accenture, EDS, Ford, and Oracle.
It found that, in addition to women leaving the industry to start families, older women are abandoning the industry later in their careers.
Rebecca George, IBM's director of UK government business, and chairwoman of the Champions Group, explained that more government research is needed to understand why women quit IT.
"We originally thought that women leaving the IT industry was about work/life balance policies, but that was very naive," she said.
"We thought we knew what the problem was, but we're not making progress. With this report we've raised more questions than we started with.
"But we think that women are leaving because of corporate cultural issues and because they want to work in an environment where they have more control."
The report was presented at the government-backed Women in IT conference. Speaking at the event Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, described the report as worrying.
"This is a challenge for industry, business and government. None of us on our own can solve this problem," she said.
"We knew we had a problem with women going into the industry, but they don't stay. This is very bad news for women and bad news for the sector. We can't have an all white, all male workforce."
Larry Hirst, general manager of IBM UK, admitted that only 10 per cent of the company's senior executives are female, and said that IBM is struggling to increase that ratio.
"Despite all our efforts and hard work we haven't moved the female population in IBM beyond the 25 per cent mark and it's not enough," he explained.
Richard Lowther, human resources director at Oracle, acknowledged that a deliberate strategy to target graduates from non-IT disciplines into IT roles had failed to deliver the expected results.
"It wasn't a roaring success," he said. "It took them longer to pick up the skills and they didn't stay as long in the roles."
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