Finding out why women don’t rise to the top of the UK’s IT crowd

Where are all the top women in IT in the UK? OU research is investigating this very question to see why there is a lack of women working in highly-skilled roles in the tech sector. The team will compare the UK and India, looking at the employment of women in this industry in both countries.

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.

Professor Raghuram said: “Currently the number of women taking highly-skilled roles in IT is falling in the UK. 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,” she added.

The £550,986 ESRC-funded project will take a double-stranded approach. It will look at previously-unexplored angles of the topic, comparing the UK and India. It will consider why the information technology sector in India, in contrast to many places including the UK, manages to both employ and retain women in highly-skilled roles.

Firstly it will compare the experiences of women in the information technology sector in India and the UK. Secondly it will gain insights from migrant women and men who move between the two countries, and have experience of both cultures. The aim is to understand both the gender norms and the best practice in each country.

Professor Raghuram explained that globally, the Information Technology (IT) sector is characterised by low participation of women and the UK is no exception. Attempts have been set up to address the problem.

The Open University’s Chancellor, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, is leading a high level campaign called Dot Everyone which aims to increase the numbers and retention of women in technology jobs in the UK. The results of this research project will provide timely evidence and case studies to help support this strategy.

OU Chancellor Martha Lane-Fox 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.

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

The project links into initiatives by The Open University to encourage more women to take up STEM subjects. The latest of these is the useful interactive on how to Reboot Your STEM career.

There is widespread policy and industry concern about skills shortages in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and in IT in particular.