EMPLOYMENT DYNAMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY RESPONSES
Women have long been woefully underrepresented in computing professions in almost all advanced economies. Their talents have gone untapped and their qualifications under-used in these fields of work. Public agencies, private companies and campaigning organisations have struggled to reverse this state of affairs, with limited success. This project was concerned with advancing our understanding of why women remain so poorly represented in ICT professions, and with how public policy has responded, and can respond, to this issue.
Through an analysis of statistical data and research literature in Spain and the UK, we found that girls’ and women’s low levels of participation in ICT careers start in secondary school when they are driven into non-computing studies through either gender stereotyping or disillusionment with the curriculum. By the time they enter employment, even those with computing qualifications often opt for other areas of work. The culture of the work and the organisation of working time in the sector create two key ‘pinch-points’ for female employees. One is at maternity, when many women leave computing or are inappropriately placed on their return to work. Another is in mid-career, when the combined pressures of caring work, career demands and ageism in the sector edge them out of senior positions.
The obstacles confronting women in computing in the two countries are very similar, but their policy and practical responses to problems have been very different. In the UK, the most prominent recent public policy initiative was a national resource centre, the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (UKRC). The UKRC was established to co-ordinate the activities of a vast range of stakeholders and interest groups, and to implement measures to address women’s underrepresentation in science, engineering and technology, including ICT, in education, employment, and cultural life. In Spain, a series of smaller-scale measures with more focused ambitions were established under the umbrella of the Gender Equality provisions of the Plan Avanza 2006-2010. Both encountered significant, ultimately fatal, challenges to their long-term sustainability, largely due to changing political priorities and financial support.
Start date: 1 November 2009 – End date: 31 December 2012
Lead researchers: Rachel Palmén and Milagros Sáinz Ibáñez