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Why women want out of ICT professions

20.02.2004


The ICT sector needs a make-over if it is to attract women to the workforce and retain them, says IST project www-ICT.



Only about 15 per cent of ICT professionals in Europe are female and according to National Labour Market Statistics the situation has worsened in the last five years. At the same time there is an unsatisfied demand for ICT professionals at intermediate and higher levels.

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»ICT


Image, attitudes and opportunities

A degree in Computer Science is the gateway to the technology sector, but across Europe too few women are opting for this route.

"The thought of fixing a PC or getting involved in program development is not appealing to a lot of women, even though being an engineer or technician can offer huge career opportunities and the possibility for women to move out of low-paid jobs," according to www-ICT’s Juliet Webster.

Several work placement schemes aimed at changing perceptions already operate. These offer school girls the chance to experience the ICT business at first hand, and encourage girls to qualify in science and technology subjects and choose a career in technology.

Www-ICT found that education and training offer important opportunities to change attitudes but the dot.com crash of the late 90s has resulted in widespread cuts in training budgets. However, national attitudes and company size also play an important role in employers’ decisions to invest in vocational and work-based learning. The Nordic countries, Germany and France still offer extensive training opportunities while the UK is weak in this area. Multinationals are more likely to retain their training schemes during an economic downturn in the sector than cash-strapped SMEs.

The widespread currency within the sector of industry-led qualifications, such as those offered by Microsoft, poses problems too. With no uniform system of skills accreditation, it is difficult for employers to know how to assess professional qualifications. This has led to calls for them to be integrated into national qualification frameworks.

But getting women into technology jobs and training them is only part of the problem. Keeping women in the sector and ensuring their career progression is also proving difficult.

’An alien work culture’

"Flat management structures and a culture of long-hours are partially to blame for many women’s decisions to leave the ICT business as it becomes impossible to manage career and children," says Webster.

Flat organisations focused around project teams were found to limit women’s opportunities to gain promotion. Although women liked the opportunity to work collaboratively they felt that they lost out because of a reliance on individual negotiation and advocacy when negotiating pay and conditions. Arguing for more money and justifying their work is an alien culture which women thought worked to their disadvantage and to the benefit of their male colleagues.

Hours are flexible in many companies and time off can often be taken at short or no notice, but if deadlines loom then companies can expect round the clock working. The blurred boundaries between work and leisure for many of those in the sector (both male and female) means that this poses few problems for those without family commitments. IT is a young person’s game, with the majority of employees aged under 25, single and male; there seems little room for married women with children.

Juliet Webster summed up the findings of the study saying, "After 20 years of equal opportunities programmes, the main threat to achieving gender equality in the technology sector appears to be the lack of joined up policies."

These findings are based on research carried out over the last two years in which www-ICT charted the careers of female ICT professionals’ through biographical interviews and sectoral case studies in seven countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, UK, Portugal and Ireland) to determine what deters girls from pursuing these careers and drives women to leave jobs in technology. Further analysis culminating in pan-European policy recommendations can be expected in the near future.

Contact:
Patricia Vendramin
Fondation Travail-Universite Asbl
Work & Technology Research Centre
Rue de l’Arsenal 5
B-5000 Namur
Belgium
Tel: +32-81-725122
Fax: +32-81-725128
Email: pvendramin@compuserve.com

Juliet Webster
Work and Equality Research
22 Northchurch Terrace
London N1 4EG
Tel: +44 20 72 49 25 04
Fax: +44 20 72 49 25 04
Email: juliet.webster@btinternet.com

Source: Based on information from www-ICT

Tara Morris | IST Results

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