The 2012 CIO Survey published last week by marketing research company Harvey Nash PLC, has found that seven out of 10 technology leaders believe they are missing vital skills as a result of low representation of women in their teams.
Whilst many companies are beginning to understand that gender balance in the work force is a valuable corporate resource, we need to do more to encourage women to consider IT as a career path. Recent figures released by e-skills reveal that women account for only 18% of the IT and Telecoms industries despite 47% of the UK workforce being female.
However this imbalance is not just UK focused; the shortage of women in IT is a worldwide issue and must be addressed by every company in the sector. According to jobs board TotalJobs.com, employment in the UK IT industry is predicted to grow at a rate nearly five times the UK average. The estimated demand for IT and Telecoms roles will be over half a million in the next five years, but in its current state the industry does not have enough potential candidates to fill them.
So where and why are we losing women to other industries? I believe that one of the main reasons for the shortage of women in IT is due to the lack of female role models in the industry - what if Steve Jobs had been a woman? It's not that he could do things that women can't but he was at the forefront of new technologies and his legacy and innovative spirit will continue to live on at Apple. He was also the 'face' of Apple and became a recognisable businessman all over the world. If he had been a woman, perhaps more girls would accept IT and technology as a career path as it would showcase that there are successful female leaders in such a male-dominated field.
I've deliberately mentioned 'girls' and not 'women' because I believe we are losing females at an early age. The noticeable gender divide within the industry stems partly from negative experiences of GCSE ICT, according to The Chartered Institute for IT. Females account for just 9% of those taking computing A-Levels with this number steadily declining over the last five years, despite females consistently achieving higher grades in ICT than their male equivalents.
There's been a great deal of debate in the news over the last few months regarding the changes to the ICT curriculum, which many current students believe to be uninteresting. To combat this, we all need to take an interest in what schools are teaching our children in order to ensure that ICT comes across as the fun and exciting subject it is. Some of the most rewarding careers are in IT because it involves creativity and innovation. Technology is now very much at the forefront of business success, not the 'geeky' back-office stereotype that the industry has developed throughout the years. Many of these facts and figures are well known and widespread across the news agenda, so why am I telling you this?
The apparent skills shortage will inevitably lead to the industry and eventually the economy suffering. We need to work together to promote the diverse opportunities available within the IT industry, whether these are technical or softer skilled roles. Last year we launched our Women in IT campaign to encourage more females to consider IT as a career path and the campaign has been a great success so far. If all companies were to invest time and resources into initiatives like this, it'll be a giant leap towards achieving gender balance.
As the Computer Scientist and advocate of women in computing, Anita Borg, said, "Leaders of the future will have to be visionary and be able to bring people in - real communicators. These are things that women bring to leadership and executive positions, and it's going to be incredibly valuable and incredibly in demand."