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The University of Sussex

 07 January 2002 

Women without IT skills will be losers in the jobs market

Women are becoming increasingly left behind in critical areas of the information technology revolution, a major international study by researchers at the University of Sussex has revealed.

While men dominate courses and careers in the field of Information Technology, Electronics and Communications (ITEC), the proportion of women participants is declining. In the UK in 2000 only 13 per cent of the ITEC workforce were women, down from 16 per cent a year before. This is despite a predicted massive skills shortage in the IT-related industries in the future.

Dr Jane Millar, a researcher in SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research and joint author of the Government-funded study, Women in ITEC Courses and Careers, says: "As IT literacy becomes more critical to life, the absence of these skills among women is cause for concern. More and more jobs require employees to be at least conversant with information technology and electronics-based communications."

The study, which was undertaken on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Women's Unit in the Cabinet Office, focussed on six countries: the UK, the US, Canada, Ireland, Taiwan and Spain. Although all the countries were found to have declining proportions of women in ITEC, the figures for the UK were among the lowest.

Dr Millar points out that, at GCSE level, the proportions of boys and girls qualifying in information systems and mathematics were equal. But at graduate level, the proportions show a huge disparity. In 1998 just 21 per cent of computer science graduates and 15 per cent of engineering and technology graduates were women.

"Negative attitudes to ITEC are formed early in life through experiences in the home, at school and through the media," says Dr Millar. "Women may find it less intuitive to interact with technologies that have been designed by men. Women do have strong technical skills but, unlike men, they don't enjoy technology for its own sake."

Ways to encourage women into ITEC include refreshing the image to reflect the greater employment opportunities, she says. There is also a need to make ITEC occupations more "female friendly", for example, by offering greater flexibility in work hours and opportunities for older women to develop new skills.




 Notes for editors 

For further information, please contact Dr Jane Millar, tel: 01273 873253, or Jacqui Bealing, or Alison Field, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email J.A.Bealing@sussex.ac.uk or A.Field@sussex.ac.uk.

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