The Intellect Women in IT Forum,supported by DTI, was set up to encourage more women into the IT industry, and once in it, to stay in it. The Forum has over 100 members from the Private and Public sectors, networking groups and academia. Since early 2003 the Forum has had two strands of activity – a research programme and a series of sessions to share best practice and ideas about how to recruit, motivate and retain women in the IT industry. Specifically we have been focusing on the emerging issue that women tend to leave the IT industry when they are in their 40s and 50s, and we would like to understand this issue more in order to address it.
This report is the outcome of the first phase of our research project. One of the issues about increasing the number of women in IT concerns the availability of published data. Another is the lack of a ‘business case for diversity’ – the hard financial case which clearly demonstrates the link between effective diversity strategies and programmes, and increased women in the workforce, and the profitability of organisations. We wanted to gather together in one place and summaries as much of the existing body of knowledge about women in IT as possible. We also wanted to take a hard look at the issue about creating a viable case study and better understand the issues.
For the first time, in this report, we are able to see the breadth of work that has been undertaken and is still in progress on this subject. That is both welcome and positive. It is clear that there is a great deal of interest in the subject, in the private and public sectors, and in academia.
We are also able to understand with more clarity the issues around creating available business case for diversity. Examples have explored, and explain, the reasons why it is hard to collect hard data, translate it into a business case, and relate it to the bottom line of a specific business.
In undertaking this piece of research two follow on actions have emerged. Firstly the DTI have a benchmarking service which at the moment is used to benchmark the financial viability of companies against peer companies, and also to benchmark them as ‘high performance’ companies. We are now starting a series of pilots, using this benchmarking service, to see if there is a correlation between strong financial performance and a diverse culture. Additionally, Examples have started work on a Diversity Assessment Model, which aims to identify the data points required to build the business case for diversity. We will be tracking these follow on actions through the Women in IT Forum during 2005.
The second phase of our research programme with Examples is to gather more evidence about why women leave the IT industry in their 40s and 50s. Anecdotally we believe it is to do with culture – women tend to leave the IT industry for environments where they have more control, or more flexibility, or working hours can be managed more easily. During phase two of our research programme we hope to gather more evidence in order to put forward a set of recommendations which will retain women for longer in the IT workforce in the UK.