Women call IT quits in greater numbers

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There are plenty of initiatives designed to attract women into information technology, and IT in finance in particular, but according to research published last quarter women are leaving the industry in large numbers because of the long hours and male-dominated culture of the sector.

Some firms recognise the need for extra efforts to ensure that the IT workplace is more gender friendly without compromising either quality or output. Reinforcing a positive 'culture' is critical to retaining the best staff, be they male or female.

Getting the culture balance right is a priority at Lehman Brothers, according to Sarah Wilkinson, executive director with Lehman's IT division: "Our culture creates an instinctive respect for anyone who is able to bring strong capabilities to the table, male or female, and I have never experienced any gender-bias in people's evaluation of females in the team."

Research published by Intellect, the trade association for the UK hi-tech industry, and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), shows many women professionals, however, are unhappy with the IT industry workplace.

John Higgins, Intellect director general, says, "The UK IT industry is world-leading, but it won't stay that way for long if we continue to haemorrhage valuable skilled women professionals from the sector. We must take action to ensure that we are doing all we can to recruit, motivate and retain women within our industry."

The need for part-time or flexible work in the IT industry is highlighted in the research, particularly at a senior level. Women surveyed indicated that they would prefer workplaces where the demand for long hours in a full-time role is abandoned in favour of more flexible arrangements.

The government is set to address the issues through the Intellect Women in IT Forum. Firms will be encouraged to act on the report's recommendations for greater diversity training, business mentoring and networking opportunities for women. Companies will be encouraged to retain female professionals to act as role models and mentors for women entering the industry.