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Vicky Pryce: 'Women in senior positions find it hard to argue for public quotas'

Margi Murphy | April 16, 2015
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Economist and author Vicky Pryce is fighting the corner for women in industry, telling ComputerworldUK why gender quotas may be the only means to improve gender balance within IT, and the wider business world.

"I am a great supporter of Martha Lane-Fox's wish to see more women in technology. Her refrain is that the dusty - and some would have it anachronistic - House of Lords where Fox now sits has a higher (22 percent) proportion of women than the gleaming new technology sector (14 percent)."

Pryce says that quotas for senior positions within larger organisations are necessary to change the culture, attract females into professions and retain them, as career progression becomes much more transparent."Otherwise, if current trends continue, the gender balance in IT could widen further."

But quotas are a controversial topic.

"No one really likes externally imposed regulation if they can avoid it, as its carries costs - even though the benefits to their firm more widely outweigh those costs in this case. I also assume that women who are in senior enough positions find it hard to argue in public for quotas as they would be committing their firms to extra regulation, which wouldn't go down well with their organisations.

"Women also argue that they want to be there on their own merit and not just because they satisfy some quota system. But this is a false argument. In order to be there, they would have had to have worked twice as hard as the men, which is not meritocracy at all.

"Then we have the politicians," Pryce, who used to be married to former Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne, adds.

"Most parties don't want to be seen to be imposing extra regulation, particularly not before an election if they can avoid it."

Some firms are proactively looking at their pipeline of executive directors, Pryce says. But in most cases, the near-25 percent voluntary female board participation target is "being achieved by appointing external part time women non-executive directors, which makes very little difference to anything at all."

The IT gender figures

Only 7.7 percent of IT engineers are female, according to a survey by CEBR, where Pryce is chief economist.

"And yet firms are still struggling to recruit workers with the required technical IT qualifications. More women doing IT would certainly fill the gap," she says.

"Only eight percent of computer science A-Level students were girls. As they move into higher education, female participation on IT apprenticeship programmes and Computer Science degrees was only 21 percent and 19 percent respectively.

"Clearly no one has advertised that the average annual salary for women in IT, though still some 21 percent less than that for men, was double the average woman's salary in 2013."


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