In CIO magazine’s special report last year on the UK’s 100 largest users of IT, only 11 women featured as heads of IT. Three of those were in the top twenty and one in the top 10. Numerous survey results last year found that not only were few women entering and staying in the IT profession, but that the numbers were actually declining.

For the last 20 years there has been concern about the lack of women in the industry. Gartner predicts that by 2012, 40 per cent of women in the IT workforce will leave traditional career paths.

There are three main areas of concern: The number of women entering the profession is too low; there is a serious problem retaining women who do enter the industry; and there is too little retraining of women who want to return to the industry.

Today the dynamics of business and IT have changed so much that organisations that do not have a sensible gender balance will lose out. “Without women in the mix debates and output in organisations are just not as effective,” says Mark Raskino, research vice president and Gartner fellow. “Male dominated organisations are not as functional as mixed ones. CIOs currently don’t seem to be aware that social networking systems, vendor and portfolio management, and areas like collaborative knowledge work would benefit from typically female capability traits.”

Carrie Hartnell, women in technology programme manager at IntellectUK, thinks there are a number of areas that need to be addressed. “The figures are dismal. The industry doesn’t encourage women to come back to work, there are not enough women in the industry to start off with and the equal pay surveys are horrifying,” she says. “Companies need to be more astute about their values and what they are offering employees. Women in particular choose roles to fit their lifestyles and are setting up their own companies rather than waiting for organisations to change.”

Karen Price, CEO of e-Skills UK, has spearheaded an initiative to encourage more young women into the profession. “We are focusing on the pipeline of young people.

“There are insufficient job applications from women so the focus has to be on improving that. It is a long game. The out of school clubs that we have started are not associated with ICT, which is seen as a boring subject. Social networking is cool; ICT isn’t, so we focus on technology as a tool, with themed subjects that will interest girls, like the environment, charities and music. Teachers have to be in the facilitator role, and the challenge for them is enormous.”

IntellectUK is also working hard to encourage more women into the profession, at all levels, through research and running workshops, meetings and programmes throughout the industry. Hartnell thinks there is a long way to go, and there are not enough women role models in the profession, something the CIO top 100 seems to reflect.

Mary Hensher, CIO, Deloitte (Ranks 60th in top 100)

Hensher did a modern languages degree at Cambridge and then a numeracy course, before working at KPMG. She moved to Deloitte in 1999 as IT director.

She believes the lack of interest in IT stems from an early age. “There are a range of reasons for the dearth of women in the profession, but the games market is one of the possible reasons. Most games have been designed for boys, although there are finally some girl specific games coming on to the market.

“But many of the issues are the same for every industry. Work life balance, managing families, IT is not unique. But IT is challenging intellectually and we need to change the perception that it is dull.

“Women network and should be raising awareness, but it is not a matter that bothers most men. Seminars do raise awareness, but frankly it isn’t the women who need these it is the men. Let’s face it, men also have problems in working life – it is not a lack of willingness in many cases, but there are not that many women in the IT market. We need to get more of them in the work pool first.

“Everything derives from computers today – it is huge and global. For example, all movies are computer based, ie Lord of the Rings, Shrek etc. I defy anyone not to be interested.

“Promoting IT is about getting the right hooks.”

Catherine Doran, IM Director, Network Rail (Ranks 31st in top 100)

A member of the executive management group within Network Rail, which devises and drives delivery of the strategy for the company, Doran’s specific responsibilities encompass all aspects of Networks Rail’s Information Technology systems, from both the infrastructure and applications perspective.

Doran says she has had female IT professionals contact her, asking advice on how to advance their careers and has become so concerned with the declining numbers that she has brought it to the attention of her team at Network Rail. “We decided to try to do something positive, and next year will begin to do the milk round at universities to see if we can address the gender balance,” she says.” It is so important to have diverse workshops for the whole business. There is huge drop off and a failure to retain senior, experienced women. This has to change, and we need to encourage more women to enter the pool in the first place.”

Kate Craig-Wood, CEO, Memset

Kate Craig-Wood didn’t really have any formal IT training, but had an underlying passion for IT. “I enjoy being creative and found I was quite good at interface design. I thought a computing degree would be very dull and wanted to do a degree in line with my passion for IT. I worked as partly a web developer and partly a business development manager, which is a serious communicator role, managing the relationship between customers and the technical team. It is tragic there are not very many women in the industry, because women are very good at IT.

“Image is important and we are working to change the geek image. There is such a need for communications skills that women can offer. IT is a male dominated industry and they are not that good at communicating. IT has to be people centred today, and doesn’t rely on pure logic. Women are good at that.”

Sarah Speake, Head of communications, Google

Sarah Speake was headed hunted by Google while she was pregnant. I’ll just repeat that. Google recruited Speake for a senior management role while she was pregnant. Although she comes from a non-technical background, she has a passion for technology which has now led her to one of the world’s leading technology companies.

“The company really put its money where its mouth was and waited for me. I am finally in an organisation that has no old boys’ network, is balanced and diverse, and is very, very challenging. I have achieved more in a quarter than I would in a year elsewhere.

There is a diversity programme within the organisation, and I think it is unique as it is able to attract female engineers because it is seen as such a cool place to work.”
Speake believes that retention of women in the industry is the significant issue. “Most organisations are quite old fashioned, without the ability to be flexible and adapt to women returners. It is a crying shame we are still having this conversation.

“Tapping into the wealth of experience that women have is crucial. They have a wealth of skills and companies are crying out for this type of experience. The general public perception of the culture of IT is still a great challenge, and something that will have to change to improve things.”

Theresa May, MP, Maidenhead and shadow leader of the House of Commons

Why do you think the numbers of women entering and then remaining in technology related industries is so low, and in some cases actually decreasing?

“It’s not just in the technology sector that we have this problem. There are several sectors where there are relatively few women beginning their careers. This has consequences for both businesses – in that they are missing out on some very talented people – and for women. ‘Occupational segregation’, as it is called, is one of the main causes of the gender pay gap.

“I really think we have to do more to encourage girls to make more ambitious career choices and encourage women into work and up the careers ladder.”

How do you believe that this should be addressed?
By industry
“Industry can play its part, of course. It can encourage girls of school and university age to consider careers that they might not otherwise consider.It can make work more flexible and attractive to women, particularly given that most women take career breaks to have children.”

By education
“As I said earlier, this is really important. If girls naturally want to take some subjects and end up in particular careers, that’s fine. But I think careers advice should take into account the relatively narrow range of sectors women work in. It should do that by letting girls know the remunerative consequences of the decisions they take, by giving them access to role models, and making them realise what they can achieve if they put their minds to it.”

By government
“Government certainly has a part to play but as ever it is not the only solution. It can change careers advice, and it can bring forward legislation to extend flexible working rights.

“At the end of the day, it is up to industry, to the education establishment, and most importantly the decisions of millions of women up and down the country.”

Sue Bagguley, CIO, corporate business technology, business operations, Siemens

Sue Bagguley is a great role model for young women in IT. She is in her 30s and working at a company with a traditional background of engineering, which therefore doesn’t easily attract women.

“The balance is shifting, but for companies like Siemens the industry has not in the past lent itself to promoting women. One of the subjects at the last Siemens management forums was how to attract women into the industry. Local schools are very important here. The key is to switch on interest early at school. By the time children are 14 they are choosing options, and although in the past IT was not a big part of what they did, now it is part of everything, and it is the perfect time to talk to them. I try to explain you don’t need to take it apart and put it together again, just understand how technology can be applied. We need business skills now, not hardware and chip-making expertise.

“Siemens has school liaison officers, and works with enterprise business partners to introduce local schools into the mix. We also offer two-week visits for school children and try to give them concrete things to take away, like a mini-Web site they have developed to inspire them.

“We need to get out and promote the industries that we work in. It is a balance. It is a great exciting industry that is always changing.”

Claire Curtis-Thomas, MP, Merseyside

Claire Curtis-Thomas has been heavily involved in encouraging women back to science, engineering and design work and is involved in many cross-party committees. She believes that the industry does not know how to promote itself and that although the drop-out rate for women in IT is actually better than for some of the other engineering and science-based industries, a lot more could be done. “e-skills UK has one of the best sector programmes with school computer clubs addressing youngsters and getting them to make choices,” she says.

“At the schools level a lot of the time it is not the children that need help but the staff. At one school I attended they were completely clueless about getting their students work experience, believing they had to work for IT companies. They were failing to see how creative these types of industries could be. We need to target things carefully and encourage more role models.This has real merit in it. If we can have more women in media, like girls in children’s TV, it could illustrate some of the potential.

“The industry itself is pretty poor at its own PR, and has in the past been quite arrogant. Retraining is also a big problem, and is so much cheaper than starting from scratch. We need to encourage the government to help with older apprentice work-based training.”