IMIS study on gender issues in IT


Vanessa Hymas,
Business Development Manager,
Institute for the Management of Information Systems



Reason for Research:

Large numbers entering IT courses
Do not go on to pursue careers in IT
Why is this an Issue?

Current projections show job demand in the ICT sector growing at approximately 1 million per year. The projected shortfall of skilled personnel in the sector is 1.7 million by the year 2003. Implications:

  • Businesses unable to find skilled labour
  • They will relocate to countries where the labour pool is available and affordable.

In the 1960’s women occupied roughly half of the jobs in IT, but these were largely the unskilled data entry positions. Today, although there are more women enrolling in university courses than men, they are not joining ICT programmes.

Despite their apparent reluctance to take up careers in IT, over 40% of on-line users today are women, and that number is expected to grow to 60% in the next two years.

The puzzle is why, in the Western countries, are women who are clearly capable of handling the academic material, choosing not to enter the sector?


Important for everyone involved to contribute to addressing the issue.

IMIS is working closely with government, educationalists, industry and other associations to find ways of reversing this damaging trend.

As part of our contribution, we have commissioned research to identify where in the education process we can capture the imagination, and eventually the commitment, of young women to a career in IS/IT.

We sought to identify the career aspirations of women who have chosen to study IS in university.

We wanted to identify, in particular, where those reasons might differ from their male colleagues.

We surveyed students currently enrolled in the first and final year programmes at 9 universities around the U.K.

Students were asked by their tutors to complete a simple questionnaire in class. The surveys were then returned for analysis to our research consultant. A considerable amount of the data collected was qualitative, i.e. written questions rather than tick boxes, because we need, at this stage, to identify the issues in the students’ own words.


What the sample looked like:

Intake statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (in the UK) show that the number of women entering Computer Studies courses as a percentage of total intake has been steadily increasing, from 21.8% in 1995, to 25.5% in 1999.

Our sample, covering a combined business and information systems programme could expect to have a slightly higher percentage of women as it is seen as less technical.


15% of the first year sample claimed that this was not their first choice course. There was only a 1 percent difference between male and female students on this issue, and the courses they indicated they would have preferred were within the same disciplines of business and/or IT.

Of the vast majority who indicated that IS was their first choice these are just some of the comments we received in response to the question ‘Why’

[Point to slide]

It is interesting to note that the first two comments were made by male students, and the second two by female students.


31% of the students surveyed claim to have found the course more difficult than expected, which may indicate that their expectations were unrealistic but there was no significant gender variation on this result. The men were just as likely to have found the course difficult as the women.


Somewhere between First and Final year, a further 15% of students decide they do not want to remain working in Information Systems throughout their careers.

Again, there is no significant gender split – 69% of women intend to remain in IS, compared to 66% of the men in Final Year.

Of those who want to move out of IS, many will chose to focus either on business or technology, rather than pursuing the combined disciplines.

However a significant percentage (over 25%) don’t know what else they want to do, indicating a movement away from IS rather than towards something else.

There were some clues given in the comments to open questions:

  • Some First Year students complained of a lack of motivation and commitment to the subject matter.
  • Several of the Final year students were put off by the design of the academic programme itself.


By the Final Year, as you would expect, many of the ‘undecideds’ from the First Year have made a career choice.

The percentage choosing to become Systems Analysts has not changed, but many more students appear to be moving towards:

  • IT Support and Networking
  • Graphics and Web Design
  • Project Management
  • Consultancy.

This may be as a result of growth in career opportunities or the idea that there is a lot of money to be made in these types of jobs.


This chart shows the Final Year students’ career aspirations, by gender. Now we see some definite differences in the directions male and female students favour, with the men pursuing the more technical roles in internet/e-commerce, graphics and web design and IT support and networks.

Women, on the other hand, seem more likely to move into the types of roles that emphasise business and communication skills, such as systems analysis, project management and consultancy.

Slide 10 – PERCEIVED OBSTACLES We thought it would be interesting to identify what the students thought might prevent them from achieving their objectives.

Many of the students expressed a high degree of confidence, which was coded in the Non-Response category.

Of those who did express a concern, the most frequently mentioned, almost twice as often by male students as female, was the fear of failing the course.

Another concern was related to the structure of the IS course itself or to the perception that these courses are not yet accepted by industry.

Women were more likely than men to be concerned about the lack of experience and its affect on their career prospects, and they mentioned discrimination more frequently.

Interestingly, their discrimination concerns were as likely to be over age or race as they were about gender discrimination. Both Males and Females expressed concern about needing to meet the demands of family commitments around their careers.

Slide 11 – WHAT CAN WE DO?

The research has raised a number of issues and pointed the way to some action we can take.

We need to reach people at an earlier age – some studies have suggested as early as 9 to 12 years of age – if we want them to consider a career in IT.

Courses need to be more relevant with course developments being industry led.

Mentors and role models need to be available to develop and encourage young girls and women into the sector.

We need to understand that we are missing out on a tremendous source of talented workers who have so much to contribute to the development of the IT sector and our economies.

It is through cooperative initiatives, involving schools, industry, government and professional bodies that we will make the most impact.

Slide 12 – …… AND FINALLY

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