Where have all the women gone? Gender and the ICT sector

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW1.2.04 (Tower One)
Abigail Marks, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Early work on the ICT sector (Knights and Murray, 1994; Panteli et al, 1990) adopted the position that computing and software work were gender neutral. However, successive studies have shown that this is not the case, noting that there are fewer women than men in ICT related courses at university and consequently a dearth of women entering the ICT labour market (Guerrier et al 2009; Ruiz Ben 2007; Wilson 2004).  Indeed, Wilson, in 2004, reported that only 19% of students on ICT courses were women and only 20% of ICT workers were women. The dearth of women in these occupational groups is becoming even more marked with e-skills UK (2011) reporting that only 17% of IT professionals are women and only 15% of students on IT-related degrees in the UK are female. 

Moreover, Wilson (2004) and Baldry et al., (2007) found that women involved IT and computing work tend to be positioned in lower status roles with limited requirement for technical skills. These roles include technical sales, help desks and customer service work. On the other hand, men are more likely to occupy more technical roles, such as systems analysis and programming. Women are also less likely to possess relevant degree qualifications in software engineering or computing (Igbaria and Chidambaram, 1997; Baldry et al., 2007). Such a separation is also reflected in salaries, with full time male IT and Telecoms professionals earning 13% more than their female equivalents (e-skills UK, 2011).  

A recent report by e-skills UK (2011) argued that women were often put off entering ICT work due its ‘geeky’ image.  Guerrier et al (2009) discovered that even where there are expressed intentions to address the problem of women’s under-representation in ICT work, initiatives are hampered by a traditional view of appropriate roles for men and women. Yet, the lack of attraction to IT work appears to run deeper than just the image of the occupation.

Affordances refer to how features of an object, in this case IT, are perceived by its users in terms of its potential for action and engagement (Hutchby, 2001). If users of technology from a very early age cannot see a use for action, then they are unlikely to engage with it and find the technology attractive. It could be argued that computers in schools are not providing attractiveness or interest for girls. Moreover, the use of social networking sites and online forum appear to allow a frankness of discussion amongst males which is not reflected amongst female users (Kuo et al., 2013). This potentially alienates women from online forums, essential for the more technical end of ICT work.

This study reports a survey of 300 early-career and more established ICT workers in England and Wales as well as 25 semi-structured interviews with a sample of the survey population. We found that women are increasingly unlikely to enter ICT due to a complex set of interacting factors including responses to school level IT teaching; blatant sexism within the profession and workplace; social isolation at work and importantly, a subtle interaction effect between class and gender.