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

Friday, 10 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.