Time for young women to join the IT crowd

Thursday 4 September 2014

When I was 18, I decided to study IT.  In making this choice, I found myself in a slightly alien world, dominated by men, and I have to confess I didn’t last.  Instead I moved on to other things.

Unfortunately, IT remains a man’s world.  For every one woman doing an apprenticeship in IT there are 10 men.  I don’t understand in the 21st century why this makes sense.  There are jobs in IT all over the country, there are opportunities to progress in IT. But in this field it is predominately men who are benefitting.

So where are the young women?  On the whole, young women are training and working in a much narrower range of occupations than young men, those traditionally associated with women.  The apprenticeship figures alone show that 5 sectors account for 61% of all female apprenticeships (whilst the same proportion of men work in more than 10 sectors)

Through the ‘Scarred for Life?’ Inquiry evidence sessions, I met a young woman in Blackburn. She was qualified as a hairdresser and had become “self-employed” as none of the salons she approached would use her services otherwise. She struggled for months and months to make enough money to live on and eventually was forced to give up. There was no way she was going to be able to survive on the few hours of work she was eventually able to secure.

She is not alone in this. On average, there are five qualified hairdressers for every job in hairdressing. This means that 80% of women who train as hairdressers won’t find work in their chosen field. I think I would struggle to find a young woman who was given the hard, bare facts about how she would make a living in her area if she trained as a hairdresser

The same goes for childcare. So many of the young women I met around the country were being encouraged to study child care. Were they being told about the reality of finding work in their own areas? Were they being told that in areas of deprivation and high unemployment few can afford childcare so there will be no demand for their services? 

I think that the contribution of those doing hairdressing or child care is often greatly undervalued. I fear too that we are leaving young women to make decisions, often at an extremely young age, without clear and honest information. 

I am very concerned that there is a lack of leadership on this issue at national, regional and local level.  Young women must be part of the equation when it comes to considering skills shortages in their local area.  There is also little consideration about the specific and ongoing support young women might need if we are to encourage them away from traditionally female subject choices to those where men tend to dominate.