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Thousands of black women missing from IT industry, report says

The professional IT industry is missing more than 20,000 black women, according to a new report on representation in the sector.

Research by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Coding Black Females found that while black women make up 1.8% of the UK workforce, they make up only 0.7% of IT professionals – a shortfall of around 20,000.

A survey of black women in the industry carried out as part of the study also found that 67% of those asked said they felt they faced more barriers to entry into the sector than others and 21% said they believe that current diversity and inclusion policies are having a negative effect on their ability to progress.

According to the study, black women see their progress blocked by issues such as a lack of flexible working opportunities and career development support and a toxic ‘tech bro’ culture within some organisations.

The research found that the percentage of all women in IT has only slightly increased in recent years – from 17% of the industry workforce in 2017 to 21% in 2021.

But overall ethnic minority representation is actually higher among IT workers than within the wider workforce, with the study noting that this was largely due to the high proportion of tech professionals of Indian origin.

Industry leaders have warned that technology that is able to serve everyone will only be possible if the industry building those systems is truly representative.

Charlene Hunter, chief executive of Coding Black Females and a BCS board member, said: “High-stakes fields like data science and cyber security desperately need many more technologists from a diverse range of backgrounds, who all see computer science as an ethical, aspirational career choice.

“While there are some really inclusive IT organisations, our research with BCS found that successful black women – and women in general – working in tech are often where they are despite the prevailing culture and limited flexibility in their working options, and lack of inclusive working culture.

“The fact is that a diverse tech profession produces much better products and outcomes, for example in teams working on AI.

“We need senior leaders to match the large numbers of black women currently appearing in tech and engineering adverts, with genuine opportunities to progress into rewarding jobs.”

Rashik Parmar, chief executive of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said: “We will only be able to build the systems that serve everyone if the diversity of humanity is represented in the project teams that design and build those systems.

“The gender gap in IT is showing signs of narrowing, and groups such as BCS Women have worked for many years to move the dial.

“Coding Black Females are inspiring women of colour into digital careers, but our joint report shows the tech profession still has profound work to do to become truly inclusive, trusted and ready to solve the world’s greatest challenges.”