The number of women in IT is continuing to fall. As a profession, how do we account for the failure of the profession to attract more women to consider a career in IT - and what can be done to address this issue? The BCS is starting a month long campaign to highlight the need for more women in the technology profession.

The bottom line is that the lack of women in the profession is a real threat to UK plc. Currently women account for between 15-18% of the IT profession. Figures from e-Skills show that the profession needs 129,000 new entrants a year up to 2015; we believe at least half of these should be women and our survey of IT professionals shows that 79% believe the IT profession would benefit from having more women working in it.

It’s time for businesses to wake up to the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Research shows, that gender diversity brings many benefits to an organisation, including increased productivity.  Women are consumers of technology; they are customers for every business. Having a diverse workforce reflects an organisation’s customer base and can ultimately help it to deliver better and more diverse products to meet the requirements of that customer base.

One of the most understated and shocking issues contributing to the lack of women in the IT profession is the gender pay gap that still exists despite the equality laws that have been in existence for three decades. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the pay gap for women working in the information and communication industry is 27%*.

This means that a salary of £40K for a man would be less than £30K for a woman for the same work and equal skills. This over a working lifetime could equate to a third of a million pounds, not to mention the detriment to the pension.

We need to tackle this from several angles. Businesses need to comply with the law which says that we should reward equal work equally. As employers, we need to be aware that women find it very hard to ask for a salary increase or a better package when offered a job, while men are generally often very good at this and it can lead to unwitting or unnoticed pay gaps. If we are aware of this, we can and should take action to avoid it.

As well as addressing the gender pay gap, we need more role models in the IT profession who can demonstrate what a great and varied career option it is, who will inspire young people and women to think ‘I could do that, or I want to do that’. We’ll be featuring thirty influential women in IT throughout May on our website who will each offer advice and share their own stories to demonstrate the variety of ways into the profession and the diverse range of jobs open to everyone.

So as a CIO and leader, what are the practical things you can do to encourage more women into your team?
When recruiting, double check the wording of your advertisements.  Are they gender friendly?  Will they specifically attract women?  Are they likely to catch the eye of more experienced women returning to work after a career break who wouldn’t mind starting again at the bottom of the ladder?

How many women have you got on your board? It makes a real difference in productivity and in profits.  Ideally you will have 40% women on your Board and in your Executive teams – because that will really put you on the map and attract other high calibre women to your organisation.

Last, but not least, instigate unconscious bias training in your team to avoid unwittingly disadvantaging different people. Research into how we make decisions shows that unconsciously we tend to be drawn to people who are like us. As professionals, we need to be aware of this in order to ensure that our profession is diverse, makes the most of the talent pool available and reflects the diversity in our society.

In summary, we need to support UK employers who struggle to find IT skills for their organisations; as research shows, there’s clearly an opportunity for businesses to truly benefit from having a diverse work force and ignoring 50% of the potential workforce because of their gender is simply not an option.

*taken from the ONS Gender Pay Gap by Industry report April 2013, released in December 2013