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“Lack of women in ICT is an absolute scandal”: MP calls for gender equality measures

Friday, 10th May 2013 09:07 GMT By Dave Cook

MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Chi Onwurah has called for reflection among the UK games industry on the issue of gender equality in issues such as employment, skills and more. The MP called the imbalance of women working in information and communications technology roles – including the games industry – an “absolute scandal”, and called on the industry to provoke real change.

Speaking at the GameHorizon conference in Newcastle yesterday, Onwurah underlined the problems with information and communications technology training in UK schools, stating that for every 11 boys in a single O-Level computing class, there is on average only one female student.

Onwurah recently backed International Girls in ICT day, a campaign which sees events taking place to raise awareness of roles in the computing, engineering and game development sectors – to name a few.

But during the GameHorizon talk Onwurah stressed that there is still a visible lack of careers advice for girls in general, and that the these industries are still framed as male-centric. The MP suggested that while the figures show a great imbalance between males and female employees actively working in game development, Westminster is sympathetic, but currently unwilling to take the steps needed to trigger change.

Onwurah explained, “The Government’s position is – they offered lots of warm words of support – but they don’t believe in targeting girls. They believe in raising the profile of ICT generally, rather than just girls. Again, I’d say that – having a lot of experience in this industry – this ‘gender-blindness’ approach is not going to work. It hasn’t worked so far.

“The lack of women in ICT is an absolute scandal which shames us as a country. But I’d also say that it’s a loss to the country economically, and it’s a loss to the sector. So it’s a loss to the country in having a talent pool which is only half the size it could be.

“The Livingstone home skills review of video games and visual effects said that UK growth was being held back by a lack of skills in videogaming. It’s no wonder if we’re excluding half of the population. It’s also a loss to women because they don’t have entry to these really exciting and fulfilling careers, and also relatively well-paid careers.

“So on average salaries in technology are 50% higher than salaries elsewhere. That’s one of the main reasons why we have such a gender pay-gap. It represents a loss to the industry, because who knows what kind of innovative and exciting games could be developed, if they were developed by women.

“The tangible, hugely important loss is that technology will never have a position of merit at the heart of our society and economy if it is made by a narrow section of society. So to drive forward our economy – particularly sustainably in the long term – ICT needs to be a strong part of our society and culture.

“Given the economic, social, climatic impact of ICT, and given the challenges we face, we really can’t allow ICT to be an exclusively-male occupation. Gender balance in ITC is a critical issue.”

You can discuss the matter and keep track of the issue of gender inequality in the sector over on Onwurah’s official site.

This has become a growing issue lately, and most recently Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett has discussed the impact of her #1reasonwhy and #1reasontobe Twitter campaigns that call on industry professionals to come forward and discuss the matter at hand. Find out what Pratchett said of the issue here.

What is your take on the above? What can and should be done to redress the balance of females working in ICT? Let us know below.

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34 Comments

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  1. G1GAHURTZ

    The government could spend money on trying to persuade more girls to study IT, but I don’t see it making much of a difference to employment figures, long term.

    Besides, everyone knows that the best programmers are socially inept, borderline autistic guys who get excited by looking at lines of code.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Mjorh

    Its obvious that girls arn’t interested in IT stuff ,i don’t see special solution 2 that …

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Dave Cook

    @2 But that’s because it isn’t being marketed to them. At all. If people didn’t market games to me as a male in their ‘key’ (read: sexist) demographic, then I might not be playing them today.

    When the walled fortress seems impenetrable you just give up don’t you? Those walls need to be smashed down. Fast.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @1 “everyone knows that the best programmers are socially inept, borderline autistic guys who get excited by looking at lines of code.”

    Oh man, 99% of the time I agree with your posts man as you speak sense, but that is nonsense, sorry bud. That’s the sort of sweeping generalisation that’s got us into this mess to begin with.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Mjorh

    @3 Yeah , u’ve got a point, anyway its kinda complicated smashin down those walls n stuff !
    Thx btw
    +
    Dave Cook …hmmm…u remind me of Eminem’s On Fire song , wonderin u are that Dave Cook guy he mentions or not …

    #5 1 year ago
  6. G1GAHURTZ

    @4:

    LOL!

    I worked in IT/the games industry for the best part of a decade, and that was honestly what I found.

    I’m not saying that no-one else could code, but usually, the guys who consistently managed to do amazing stuff, in little to no time, used to fit that profile.

    The other, more regular coders that I worked with were good at their jobs or whatever, but they were nowhere near as good.

    It’s funny, because one day someone I worked with (also a coder) saw one of our company adverts in Edge, and suddenly got all annoyed at government regulations on wanted ads.

    He was complaining that our ad asked for someone who was a good communicator, works well in a team, etc, but that what we needed was the complete opposite.

    I laughed, but based on my personal experience, I think that what he said was basically true.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. POOP CRUSTY

    I understand a girl getting into IT stuff sure. Naturally though it won’t happen. it’s like telling girls to play with G.I Joes instead of barbies. 1 out of 10 might go for it but the appeal just isn’t there. I understand where they are coming from but it’s not because they are shone away from it.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @5 Nope, that would be American Idol winner David Cook. He’s much better looking than me.

    @6 Yeah man I get what you mean, that’s what you’ve found in your experience, but moving forward is there not a chance that the demographic can and should shift? Not arguing with you bud, but I feel Onwurah has a valid reason for concern :)

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Fin

    Best programmers I know are female.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Jerykk

    This is idiotic. There’s nothing stopping women from having a career in IT. Is it dominated by males? Sure. So are most industries. This won’t change until more women join those industries. If there’s a lack of women in IT, it’s because women generally aren’t interested in that area.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. Dave Cook

    @10 it’s up to education authorise to convince females at an early age that it’s a career worth pursuing. I absolutely believe this to be true personally, but we all have different opinions on the matter so I hope no one shreds me to bits over this.

    #11 1 year ago
  12. FeaturePreacher

    @Dave Cook

    The problem is not the attitudes of the industry. The problem is the psychological issues that ladies have. Some ladies have this ridiculous collective thought that they represent the entirety of women instead of just themselves. So when they make a mistake, they believe they’re sending a message that all women are incompetent instead of thinking they them self made a mistake. It’s called stereotype threat. Read or listen to more here. Basically their self inflicted frustration leads them to run towards the easiest excuse of sexism instead of the actual excuse of their own messed up mentality.

    As for the industry targeting individual groups, it’s not sexism, it’s marketing and good results from marketing. Much in the same way games like just dance and dance central are marketed to ladies. At some point you start to realize who your audience is. I guess that’s why this site doesn’t advertise things like perfume, and lipstick.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. POOP CRUSTY

    @7 There definitely. There is one big problem happening. When I graduated from high school, there was only 1 computer learning class to the 5 from when I was a freshman. I also recently went to visit my old teachers over at my middle school and the amazing computer tech class that showed us how to render 3d models and make 3d scenes got cut. Changes to schools have to be made before computer programming can be branched out. The foundation is just ridiculous at the moment. Hopefully it can all change down the road.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. POOP CRUSTY

    There definitely is*

    #14 1 year ago
  15. YoungZer0

    @10: It really is that simple.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. freedoms_stain

    Time will sort this on its own as the population in general become more and more accepting of gender equality.

    Any move by the government or anyone else to force the issue will at best promote sexism against women and lead to reverse discrimination against men.

    There is no scandal here. Scandal implies willful deliberate discrimination, I do not believe this to be the case.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. viralshag

    So we’ve gone from forcing women into the kitchen to forcing them in front of computer screens… No more “make me a sandwich” and a lot more “make me a videogame”.

    Certainly seems like progress to me…

    I wonder why they think women can’t make up their own minds. It’s hardly like they’re hidden away from tech, there’s nothing stopping them from wanting to know how it works when they’re younger and then basing a career on it.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. The Dude

    Hey guise. My wall of text on the matter:

    I think the issue here is not necessarily education. Speaking from my own experience, what I am interested in and the area I have decided to pursue in my career was *never* pushed or encouraged while I was at school. Nothing I do ever came from my time in education; if anything, I saw school as a damn cage!

    I would argue that most people’s interests, dreams and desires come from outside the walls of education, which should be there to facilitate the learning and growing of these established interests. Education should be there to give the power to make dreams reality, turn an interest into a skill (whether or not education as it is now does that *well* is another debate).

    Arguing that schools should do more to push kids into a particular subject, or that it’s their responsibly to usher them into a specific field is like when the parents of badly behaved children go to a school and complain that the teachers aren’t doing enough to teach them right from wrong. That’s the job of the PARENTS. It’s something that starts in the home, outside of school.

    And so too do children’s interest. The problem, if you want to call it that, is a deeper ingrained one and should be dealt with in society in general. What parents teach and show their kids, and how people in general expect other’s to behave or interact in society have a big influence on what we end up doing, or at least become interested in as adults.

    Let’s go back to the 16-bit era for a moment and think about the games that were around back then. I’d say they were generally more inclusive and less sexually charged back then as they are now. Also still seen as something very much for kids/teens rather than adult entertainment. Yet this wasn’t a golden era for women in games, with the number of women working in, and girls playing games being way higher than they are today. And that’s because computer games “are for boys”, and there was a certain stigma attached to a girl with a gameboy in the playground, for example. That girl = boy, and would be seen so in the eyes of other girls.

    The same still applies today, although to a lesser degree, I think. It is changing, but what I’m trying to demonstrate is the gender role divide is what I think contributes to us seeing less women in gaming. Although I personally believe that more men in general will always be interested in things like video games/programming etc than women (we are different after all, whether you like that or not) there could be a far greater number of women also involved who are genuinely interested in this stuff. But it’s an issue of society and acceptance, rather than “the industry” or education not “encouraging” girls to do this or that.

    Things will change over time naturally, however long that takes. The wheels are already turning.

    #18 1 year ago
  19. Dave Cook

    @17 It’s not that they can;t make up their minds it’s that the seeds of wanting to get into the industry aren’t being planted in females the same way they are in males. It’s not presented as something girls can do at school.

    I’m genuinely not getting why this isn’t easy to understand. It’s the same idea of selling play ovens and kitchen sets to girls only and action figures to boys only. Pigeon-holing begins at an early age. Girls will grow up thinking that IT isn’t for them because of that early influence unless they’re told early on ‘You can do this too’.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. Wertisdk

    @19
    I don’t agree that there is a problem, any longer at least, with the targeting of both genders.
    The diversity of the people I know of, who are interested in being something techy is good – especially when you factor in the actual differences in how a gender naturally is predisposed for something (and I am not talking sandwiches vs. videogames here, but more like logic vs empathy differences).

    I see the problem getting less and less apparent already, so why have such a “fit” over it?
    I for one think that women are perfectly capable of aspiring to be what they want and fulfil their dreams on their own.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. FeaturePreacher

    @Dave Cook

    You can influence them to a certain point. But after that point, it may be an innate desire to not do something. I’m sure that every lady has been taught about the sexism of shaving their legs. Some choose not to do it while the majority of ladies choose to do it despite the convenient excuse of sexism. Perhaps sexism has nothing to do with it as much as a ladies desire to not have hairy legs. In the same vein, you can try all you want to run towards the easy and convenient lie of sexism whenever you see that mostly guys do something that ladies don’t. But at some point, when so many wasteful programs have been attempted, you finally have to look at reality and see that women may not want to do something as much as men.

    #21 1 year ago
  22. The Dude

    @20 “I for one think that women are perfectly capable of aspiring to be what they want and fulfil their dreams on their own.”

    Of course, and I agree with you. I don’t think that there is such a gigantic problem like some people say, and I don’t get upset over exposed skin or sexuality in games… but to deny that there isn’t some residue of the old attitudes toward women in general would be wrong. It hasn’t been that long since women have actually been able to do what they want without being scrutinised or poked, or examined. Even now that still happens, and where some people see themselves “defending” women (eg Dragon’s Crown), I see the same prodding and judging in a different form. The same stuff just doesn’t happen to guys. Male barbarian vs female barbarian – which is going to get frowned upon and finger-pointed at?

    The same as being judged, or feeling as though one is being judged for having a particular job… it doesn’t just vanish. I’m not a woman, so I can’t pretend to fully know what it’s like, but I think it’s still there a bit. Not just from men, but from other women.

    I believe that just chilling out, accepting what people what in life and moving along is what’s needed.

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Da Man

    If everyone listened to isolated nerds, which for some reason think they should become programmers and next gen species who think everyone is equal, we would have inferior games with lots of performance issues, inane gameplay and a plethora of bugs. But all developed by females, fanboys, gamers, lolcats and whatnot.

    Nobody actually employed (or employers) cares if someone on the internet has no life and is passionate about some weirdo topic which makes them feel complete.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. G1GAHURTZ

    @Dave (#8):

    I know you’re not arguing, fella, neither am I. Its cool to discuss this sort of stuff, and I certainly don’t have any problem with anyone disagreeing with me, or having any other valid opinion.

    @Dave (#19):

    Girls will grow up thinking that IT isn’t for them because of that early influence unless they’re told early on ‘You can do this too’.

    This is the nature vs nurture argument, right here.

    Is Messi the best player in the world because he was born better than everyone else, or could you train a two left footed fat kid to be reach the same level if you throw all of the world’s best resources and facilities at him?

    This is the key question when it comes to any sort of education, but recently we’ve had an avalanche of feminists trying to push that all human beings are in fact, taught gender roles, rather than assuming them based on natural instinct.

    So what you’re saying becomes an issue heavily linked with the idea of gender neutrality. Do we teach boys to be boys, and girls to be girls?

    For me, the simple answer is no. And the case of David Reimer absolutely destroys any argument trying to suggest that society tells us what we do and don’t like.

    Girls like what girls like, and boys like what boys like. And no amount of Lego bricks, or Barbie dolls is going to change our innate nature.

    But that’s just my opinion. Feel free to disagree.

    #24 1 year ago
  25. Kalain

    @Dave Cook

    I find it interesting that you are saying that females should have the ‘Seeds of wanting to be in IT’ should be planted when they are school. In the schools my son went to, from nursery through to 6th form, the vast majority of his teachers and form tutors were female.

    His 4th – 5th year (or year 8 or whatever they call it now), IT Tutor was Female. In that class, there were only 3 females out of class of 19.

    So, I’m only taking this from my very limited view point, aren’t Female teachers in education causing the lack of women in IT by not suggesting that the female pupils should look into it?

    #25 1 year ago
  26. PEYJ

    Men and women do not need someone of their own gender to inspire them. Many girls start to play football because of male stars and not necessarily female equivalents.

    The only social construction here is that in every sector with a certain “potential” (read: size and media interest to the public) we need more women to make things better, and whenever there is a gender gap (in male “favor”) it’s because of discrimination.

    #26 1 year ago
  27. sh4dow

    You know… I would be really sympathetic to this… and at the places I work, I am frequently the only one standing up against sexism/racism/homophobia BUT… I do find it hard to feel sympathetic for a group of people (females) who have so many advantages in their private lives. I would gladly take even a 30% pay cut if it meant that I can get laid as easily as women can. (And generally have pretty much absolute control when it comes to any kind of relationship)

    Admittedly, that is obviously MY issue. But I keep wondering whether it’s not things like that that still keep women down. Their own exploitation of natural advantages when it comes to private matters. An area where men often can’t do anything about it (“Beggars can’t be choosers”, “I have the pussy, I make the rules”, etc.), so they vent in the professional environment. Where they still have at least some power.

    #27 1 year ago
  28. silkvg247

    As I said on another thread – a big problem is that there aren’t enough entry points for anyone (male or female) to get into the industry in the first place; they want grads with relevant computer science degrees or they want prior experience.

    How many women will be eligible to join with those entry conditions? How many girls pick computer science as a topic? Hell I’m a crazy geek but even I wouldn’t have gone down that route – it’s just dull.

    I am a professional woman and I can’t break into the industry, and bear in mind I’m supposedly the demographic they’re trying to employ, have made my own playable games, have my own portfolio, and have years of IT industry experience. If I can’t get in, then your average joe-ette won’t either.

    Frankly, there aren’t enough jobs anyway – in the UK that is. Hopefully if/when the tax breaks come in, that’ll change.

    So here’s my take:

    * We need more jobs creating ie the tax break
    * We need more entry points into games, any design or IT experience should be deemed valuable in any industry.
    * And to agree with Dave’s point, we could do with less brainwashing at the younger ages to keep people’s minds open as they grow up, or at least give girls and boys a wider perspective on what they can do and stop shoe-horning them – but that’s a much bigger social change I can’t see happening in our lifetime.

    @27 I would swap you any day of the week darling, have fun with your monthly cycle.

    #28 1 year ago
  29. Da Man

    #27 Your insight, intelligence, attitude and taste are only second to a user with 8 bubbles on N4G.

    #29 1 year ago
  30. NocturnalB

    I’m not sure if this is a regional problem? I worked in IT for many years and met plenty of women, programming, coding, network etc. Granted they were usually as socially inept and awkward as the men, but they got at it just as well as any of them. So i’m not fully grasping what/how/why.

    Another thing for this specific field (and this i personally feel is just due to the current day and age we live in) is it IS generally viewed as “guy stuff”. Just the same way that just about everything in the field of fashion and cosmetology is generally considered “girl stuff”. And yeah by now you’re thinking “But there are plenty of men straight/gay/etc in those fields!”. Yeah well I’ve seen and believe the same of women in the IT field. Now trying to argue the point of if there are more men in the cosmetology industry than there are women in the IT industry is just a bunch of hearsay unless someone finds cold hard facts that state otherwise.

    My own personal opinion being, for my country (America) anyways; is the opportunity is absolutely there. Male, female, black, white, purple people eater. I think the only problem in my country is too many people that are too lazy to reach for that opportunity.

    #30 1 year ago
  31. FeaturePreacher

    @28
    If you’re able to make your own games, then you should be able to create your own place in the industry.

    #31 1 year ago
  32. sh4dow

    @28: Monthly cycle… I’m not sure you want to get me started on that one ;)
    But to make it short: Related to that is obviously birth control. And I’d rather have that and be in full control of whether I procreate or not. As a man, all you can really do is always use your own condoms, never trust a woman (I know it sounds harsh but if you want to be absolutely sure, you can’t. And I know of two men who shouldn’t have trusted their long-term partners myself) and I guess if you’re religious – pray.

    Besides – that is something physical one can’t choose. Using that as an argument is on the same level as saying “So what? We have to give birth”. Aside from the fact that… no, you don’t really HAVE to – you are using something one can’t choose in a debate that is all about things one CAN change. Women don’t HAVE to be such princesses and men don’t HAVE to be such douchebags. But while men have drastically dialed down the douchebaggery, women seem to still be largely stuck in the 19th century when it comes to social benefits for them.

    #32 1 year ago
  33. sh4dow

    … and I’m not even blaming women for that (largely). I put a lot of the blame on horny, spineless men. ;)

    #33 1 year ago
  34. JGMR

    Bad news. Equality does not exist, cannot exist and will never exist. Career women are a disgrace. Women should take care of children, instead of dropping them onto daycares… People wonder why children are so “out-of-control” nowadays? It’s because they are not being truly loved and cared about by their mothers.

    #34 1 year ago