Just 27% of those employed in Britain’s digital industries are women, according to a new report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), a public body which aims to advise the government and others on those issues.
The proportion is down from an already low figure of 33% in 2002, and well below the UK average of 47% for female employees.
The research highlights the continuing failure of the sector to train and retain female employees, particularly given the fact that Britain is expected to need 1.2 million new digital workers by 2022. More than 800,000 of those new workers will be needed to replace workers leaving the sector, while the rest will be needed to support expected growth.
Even so, if current trends continue, UKCES’s model suggests that by 2022, the proportion of workers in the digital sector who are women will have barely risen, to just 30%.
But despite the fall in the figures, Aoife Ni Luanaigh, one of the report’s co-authors and a senior research manager at UKCES says it’s not clear why so few women are involved in the digital sector.
“For the report, we spoke to a lot of employers, we analysed a lot of data, and it’s not really clear why the proportion of women has been dropping in the digital sector,” she said. “In part, it’s a reflection of the gender balance of people going on to do related courses at University or at further education colleges, and boys are more likely than girls to be involved in technology clubs in school.”
The drop in numbers has occurred, Ni Luanaigh says, despite “a number of quite good initiatives that are already happening, to encourage more girls at school to take up coding, or to get involved with computer clubs and so on. And some of those are referenced in the report as well.”
According to Ed Vaizey, the digital economy minister, “the UK’s digital and creative industries are among our biggest success stories, but for them to continue to flourish we must make sure the next generation of talent is being taught, trained and nurtured.”
He praised TechFuture Girls, a nationwide network of after-school computer clubs, and other schemes like it, and said that they “will play an important role in addressing this issue.”
Ni Luanaigh agrees, saying that “it’s something that needs to be started quite young. It could be as simple as more tech clubs, more computer clubs, focused on girls at the age of eight to 10. But to me, it doesn’t seem like there is a simple answer: it’s not like this hasn’t been tried before. There will have to be a number of different projects working hand in hand.”
The failure to bring women and girls into the digital sector is also hurting employers, according to the UKCES. More than two-fifths of employers in the digital sector reported that they had lost business as a result of not being able to fill posts.
The UKCES report comes a week after Google revealed internal statistics showing that only 30% of its staff were female, and 61% of its US staff were white. A recent report by Gartner backed up the UKCES findings, showing that the number of female chief technology officers across the industry has remained static at 14% for the past 10 years.
On Monday, before its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, the Apple chief executive, Tim Cook, promised a change to the typically male-dominated event.
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th June 2015 10.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010