21 Jan 2016

Research to investigate why the UK’s IT crowd fails to keep women in its ranks

The lack of women working in highly-skilled roles in the UK’s IT sector, contrasting with the employment scene in India, is set to be examined in a new research project by The Open University.

The £550,986 ESRC-funded project will take a double-stranded approach and 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, to understand both the gender norms and the best practice in each country.

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 explained that the global Information Technology (IT) sector is characterised by low participation of women with the UK being no exception. Here attempts have been set up to address the problem and increase the small and falling number of women in IT education, training and employment but with little success.
Professor Raghuram said: “Currently the number of women taking highly-skilled roles in IT is falling in the UK and 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 use of this multidisciplinary, comparative analysis across the two countries and the exploration of the experience of migrant men and women will bring together two separate fields of research: gender issues in IT, and gender and skilled migration.

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

In addition, there is widespread policy and industry concern about skills shortages in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and in IT in particular. The Open University’s Chancellor, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, is leading the high level campaign 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.”


Notes to editors

For media inquiries and interviews with academics contact Christine Drabwell at the OU Press Office on 01908 858673 or mobile 07990 827027

Find out more about the OU’s work and opportunities in STEM here:
And for Postgraduate opportunities in STEM:

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