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OU research compares UK and India IT industries to address shortage of women in UK IT

26 March 2018

New Open University research reveals that there are continuing barriers to overcome to enable women to be better represented in highly-skilled positions in UK Information Technology (IT), with lessons to be learned from their counterparts in India.

Globally, the IT sector is characterised by low participation of women, with the UK being no exception. Many attempts have been made to address the problem of small and falling numbers of women in IT education, training and employment because narrowing the gender gap in high productivity sectors like IT will add 150 billion GBP to the UK GDP forecast for 2025. However, these attempts have had little success.

An Open University ESRC-funded project - Gender, Skilled Migration and IT industry: a comparative study of India and the UK - took a different approach towards addressing this problem, comparing the profiles of the IT industry in UK with that in India. It considered why the IT sector in India, in contrast to many places including the UK, manages to attract such a high proportion of women in highly-skilled roles. It also gained 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.

The project was led by Professor of Geography and Migration Parvati Raghuram, with co-investigator Dr Clem Herman, Senior Lecturer in Computing and Communications, and Research Associates Dr. Gunjan Sondhi and Dr. Esther Ruiz Ben. The project partners included the BCSTechLondon AdvocatestechUK and NASSCOM.

Among the outputs from the two-year study was the Women and IT Scorecard – India, 2018 and the Women in IT Leadership: Moving towards gender parity (launched in Chennai, India, on 13th March 2018). A final breakfast seminar What can the UK learn from India to bridge the IT skills gap?  was held on 20 March to launch the findings, with an introduction by OU Chancellor Martha Lane Fox.

The highlights are that the Indian IT sector:

  • has achieved comparative advantage to other sectors by offering career support; high status, reward and security; and visible equality policies that attract women;
  • effectively recruits into the sector through targeted high profile campaigns and campus recruitment; 50% of the companies recruit directly through universities providing a safe pipeline from study to work;
  • enables career progression as 50% of the companies offer in-house leadership and management programmes; This has contributed to 30% of companies doubling the proportion of senior women between 2012 and 2017;
  • invests in skills development to retain staff and keep a competitive edge.

Professor Raghuram said, "Addressing the shortage of women in IT requires that the sector not only offers benefits, but outperforms other competing sectors, and projects its gender equality policies effectively through targeted campaigns."

For more information, see the OU news website.

Photo by on Unsplash.

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