Increasing the number of women working in UK IT could generate an extra £2.6 billion a year for the economy, according to a report from UK domain name organisation Nominet.
The report, released today to mark "International Girls in ICT Day", found that if the gender gap reduced and women filled the skills shortage in IT, the net benefit for the UK economy is estimated to be £2.6 billion each year.
The report says women currently make up less than one fifth of the IT workforce. Based on current trends, the IT gender gap is set to widen slightly over the coming years.
The report drew on research commissioned among IT decision makers in UK businesses, and found that 76 percent believe they lack suitably skilled staff in IT. Of these, 58 percent say this negatively affects productivity levels, estimating on average that productivity levels are 33 percent lower as a result.
In addition, 59 percent agreed that their IT team would benefit from having a more gender-balanced workforce, while only seven percent disagreed. Improved communication skills (52 percent), improved staff morale (48 percent), and bringing new ideas to the organisation (46 percent) were the most frequently cited benefits.
The report found that low female participation in IT education is a key factor in the workforce gender gap. Only a third of ICT A-level students and less than a tenth of Computer Studies A-Level students are female.
The imbalance remains at university, with women accounting for only 19 percent of students taking computer science degrees. At present, only nine percent of female students taking IT degrees go on to an IT career, compared with 26 percent of men.
Even "relatively small gains" in education could have a positive effect, said Nominet. If the same number of women studied computer science degrees as men, and the same proportion of these women as men went on to work in the IT industry, the overall net benefit for the UK economy would be £103 million per year, Nominet said.
The research also found that 53 percent of respondents agreed that women find working in technology jobs less attractive than men do. Of these, 60 percent believe that the IT profession is still perceived to be male-dominated, and 33 percent think IT is not promoted enough as a viable career option for females in school or college.
But there are signs that the IT industry is recognising the importance of attracting more women. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said their company is promoting IT roles expressly to women, and a fifth are visiting schools and universities specifically to speak with girls and young women.
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