OU leads study into why UK’s IT crowd cannot keep women in its ranks

Jan 25, 2016

The £550,986 ESRC-funded project will take a double-stranded approach and will look at previously unexplored angles of the topic, comparing the UK and India.

It will consider why the IT sector in India, in contrast to many places including the UK, manages to both employ and retain women in highly skilled roles.

The project is being led by Professor of Geography and Migration Parvati Raghuram, and co-investigator is Dr Clem Herman, senior lecturer in computing and communications.

Their work will compare the experiences of women in the IT sector in India and the UK. It will also gain insights from migrant women and men who move between the two countries, and have experience of both cultures, to understand both the gender norms and the best practice in each country.

Professor Raghuram said the global IT sector is characterised by low participation of women, with the UK being no exception. Here, work is under way to address the problem and increase the small and falling number of women in IT education, training and employment but with little success.

Professor Raghuram said: “The number of women taking highly-skilled roles in IT is falling in the UK and even those that move into the industry from university are not staying in it.

“This project will focus particularly on those with high-level IT skills, looking at both the shortages we face in the UK and why things are so different in India.

“In India for instance women are empowered to remain in the IT industry and to rise to very senior positions. We hope to look at what works and not just at what is wrong.” 

The project involves a number of partners including the British Computer Society, TechLondon Advocates, TechUK and NASSCOM.

 In addition, there is widespread policy and industry concern about skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and in IT in particular.

Open University Chancellor Baroness Martha Lane Fox  is leading the high level campaign Dot Everyone which aims to increase the numbers and retention of women in technology jobs in the UK.

She said: “We really need to put women at the heart of the technology sector so I applaud this important research which can help us understand why there is such a gender imbalance in the UK’s IT industry.

“Ultimately I hope it will help us achieve a cohort of female coders, designers and creators who can help transform the UK and give us that much-needed global edge.” 

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