As a woman who's been working in tech journalism for 15 years, I've been paying close attention to the state of the IT industry in terms of gender balance for a while now. And sad to say that in the last one and a half decades, very little has changed.
When I was first covering IT skills, women made up about 25 percent of the IT workforce - and this number has actually declined since 2000.
According to E-Skills UK, back in 2001, 25 percent of the IT workforce were women [PDF]. By 2009, women accounted for just 21 percent - and it's worth noting that at the same time, female IT professionals earned 13 percent less than their male equivalents, but that's a whole other column.
By 2013, E-Skills UK reported that only 16 percent of IT specialists [PDF] (as in people working in technical roles or as IT professionals) in the UK were women, who were getting paid 16 percent less on average than their male colleagues. Within IT vendors as a whole, female workers had dropped another percentage point to 20 percent. What's really shocking is how few technical roles are currently taken by women working within IT firms - only 11 percent. More on this later.
But why does it even matter if more women are attracted to the IT industry? I've heard some views recently that women just don't want to work in IT and prefer ‘caring' fields like nursing and primary school teaching. The opportunities are there if women want them, so I've been told (mostly I've been told this by men), and so clearly women don't have a natural aptitude for or interest in the IT.
"So what. I bet it's the same situation for nurses at hospitals. I bet 20 percent of them are men and 80 percent women," goes a typical response. And another: "Tech stuff just happens to be more attractive to men than women. Marry one and you'll know." (Disclaimer - I did marry one, and we both happen to do the same job).
I've also heard the view that banging on the women in IT drum amounts to nothing more than tokenism or quotas.
I take issue with that opinion, mainly because women don't seem to be represented across the IT industry even to their one in five levels. If indeed women now make up one-fifth of the IT workforce, that should mean that roughly every fifth time I or one of my colleagues carries out an interview with a technology vendor spokesperson, it should be a woman - but this definitely isn't the case, and anecdotally we agree it's more like one in 10, or one in 20 in certain technology areas like storage.
There's also the argument that it's not the fault of the employers that so few women are staffing their IT departments or working at technology firms. Yes, there are way more men who work in technology but that's because there aren't enough women qualified and who want to do the job - that's the same for train drivers or bin men but we don't hear you all complaining about that, now just get over yourselves.
"People should be hired on their ability to do the job, not on the basis of their gender," goes a typical response.
"These articles that assert that these numbers are indicative of bias in the tech industry are completely illogical because they're not based on the rational needs of the companies. You don't just hire skilled workers based on gender. That's crazy."
I can't argue with those points. I definitely don't think women should be getting over-promoted or hired for technology roles, simply because they're women. I think they should be getting the jobs, because they'd be brilliant at them, are fighting to join such a thriving, dynamic industry, and are well represented in the sector.
So if there are technology vendors out there who are willing to prioritise their talented female team members and encourage them to get trained up to do conference speaking or interviews, please do go down the tokenism route - as it's better than the situation we're in now, where it's simply non-representation.
And apologies to the many women working in IT roles who just want to be left to get on with the job and class themselves as an IT worker, not a female IT worker - your industry needs you. Young girls need to see more women at everything from the front of the classroom to careers fairs and at technology-related events, to prove that it's a balanced industry worth them joining.
As E-Skills UK noted in its latest report [PDF], although the number of females taking IT qualifications is low, they consistently outperform their male counterparts. It seems strange to still be writing this same argument after 15 years, but surely it's a no-brainer that if we get more females into tech at an early age, the pool of available talent will not only increase, but will be potentially even more talented.
So here I am, 15 years later and still feeling the need to cover the same topic. There is clearly still an issue with getting women into technology roles, and there is clearly value in still trying to redress the balance, as outlined by all the reasons above.
What prompted me to tackle the subject at this particular time was the latest diversity report from Apple, which revealed that only 22 percent of tech roles at the firm are held by women. If you broaden it out across the workforce, 31 percent of overall staff at the iPhone maker are now females. I'm citing Apple here just as an example, but it's definitely the norm for the industry.
My original argument was going to centre around the women in tech movement needing to shift to focus more on IT specialists - as in females working in hands-on technical roles - rather than just women working in any role at a technology vendor. So IBM could just hire loads of female cleaning staff and look like it was doing a great service for women in IT.
However, it's become apparent to me on researching this column that actually a more focused approach is far too advanced for the current situation. If Apple's overall workforce is still less than a third female, and it's actually a leading light compared to the UK IT industry that stands at 20 percent, then anything that can be done to entice women to join tech vendors or become IT specialists is a worthwhile objective.
And hopefully in 15 years time, I might get that chance to write a column about female techies versus women at tech firms.
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