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Where are the women in IT?

September 8, 2016  |  Written by Jenny Hogan, Operations Director EMEA, Digital Realty

Think of a data centre, and you think of cages, racks and servers. Most people don’t immediately match this image with female engineers, security staff or Operations Directors. Current stats put the ratio of women to men at a disappointing 1:10 – and it’s getting worse. 

One of the reasons for this is that while the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM) subjects are regularly quoted in the media, the facts make grim reading. Hark back to the 1980s and over a third (37 per cent) of computer science graduates were women, fast forward to 2012 and this has fallen by more than half, with only 15 per cent studying computing at university. What’s worse is only 8.7 per cent of UK engineers are female. Whilst these stats underline the lack of women working in technology or studying STEM subjects, what can be done about it? 

There is no strong reason why the IT industry should be such a male stronghold. It’s an image problem that needs drastically addressing. Leading women such as Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer are going some way to re-draw IT in the US. But far more needs to be done to encourage young women to make choices at school, which influence job and career choices.

Women, in fact, hold more university degrees then men, match or even outclass male peers in maths and science exams and exude the creativity and analytical skills needed for roles in technology. Mud sticks, and each of us in technology roles need to encourage women to look at IT in a new light. Our workplaces, transport and entire cities are being transformed by technology and more women need to grasp the opportunities at hand. 

Whilst the stats make for damming reading, steps are being taken to fuel education and drive interest in IT, and the data centre environment. Apprenticeship schemes have sprung up specifically targeting STEM education and coding, Code Org’s recent Hour of Code campaign has seen 15 million students writing more than 500 million lines of code – more than 50 per cent were girls. Companies such as Raspberry Pi and the BBC’s Microbit are all encouraging kids to code, and it’s down to the industry to make IT a great place for women to forge successful careers. 

The gender gap is a major concern for the industry and governments throughout Europe. With roughly 7 million people working in technology throughout the continent, 30 per cent are female. Tech Partnership predict that the number of technology specialist jobs will increase by 28 per cent over the next 10 years, meaning over a quarter of a million skilled workers are needed to fill digital jobs across Europe by 2020. This is a great opportunity for women to take advantage of a clear skills gap. Barriers to enter the industry are, however, being broken down. Technology qualifications are not always needed, the tech industry is in desperate need for diversity and broad skillsets are just as important. 

Looking at the data centre industry, we need more women with management, engineering and operational skills that view the market as a great opportunity. The data centre is at the forefront of innovation – demand is putting pressures on supply. If momentum around smart cities, driverless cars and the ever expanding IoT is to come to fruition then the backbone needs to be diverse, creative and embrace women just as it does men. 

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