Time to get ahead on equal access to careers

Time to get ahead on equal access to careers

Employees at BT Computer Centre Reigate in 1990, shows high proportion of women

  • 05 April 2018 14:03

Prospect is working closely with others to increase the flow of new women and returners into STEM careers, including at BT, says the union’s president Denise McGuire

A colleague recently shared a photo with me (see above). It was of BT’s Reigate Computer Centre in Surrey in 1990 and what you notice is the large proportion of women in the group.

I think computing/IT/digital is one of the very few work areas in the UK where there are FEWER women now than 20 or 30 years ago. Why? 

Back then, there were very few computing qualifications so employers used aptitude tests to identify people interested in training and working in computing. And a lot of women were interested and successful, both in the tests and in their subsequent careers.

Compare that with today – only 7% of A-level students studying computer science are young women. So, even fewer on the university courses, and even fewer in the profession. Women missing out, companies missing out and the UK economy missing out. This situation isn’t replicated across Europe or other regions of the world, so what have we got wrong?  And what are we doing about it?

Prospect works with the education unions, especially the NEU, to challenge gender stereotyping in schools and ran a workshop at the NEU “Stereotypes and Sexism” event in London in March.

We have also formed a partnership with the Institution of Engineering and Technology and I have chaired two working groups, producing reports on attracting and retaining women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and attracting returners (eg after career breaks, maternity leave, career changes etc) back into STEM careers.

While there is no golden bullet to attract more women into STEM careers, many different things can be done, all of which have an impact. These ideas are listed in the reports, with examples of employers have used them effectively. I hope branches have taken up this agenda and are having useful talks with employers to introduce these initiatives.

One example is that BT advertises job vacancies in women’s magazines to maximise its chances of women applying. Adverts give details of policies on childcare and caring, on maternity and adoption leave. This helps women believe that they would be welcome in the workforce and it is one of many initiatives that Prospect has negotiated.

Prospect is working with the TUC to produce video clips of women in non-traditional roles and we have made our Wilbury School videos available for use in schools.

Initiatives like these can help build a big change – better opportunities for women, a more diverse and balanced workforce and better outcomes for people, families and employers.

  • Download Prospect and the IET’s Supporting the STEP back into STEM careers (2017) here and Progressing Women in STEM roles (2015) here
  • Watch and share the Wilbury School videos:
    2017 film https://vimeo.com/224341147
    2016 film https://vimeo.com/178319960
  • This article was first published in the Spring edition of Stage Screen and Radio magazine, which members can read here
Denise McGuire

Denise McGuire


  • Excellent article Denise. The continued use of temporary IT contractors as opposed to permanent roles in IT is a problem for women as women predominantly are attracted to permanent roles as flexible working and good maternity provision is often more important than cash reward.

    So not only does the use of temporary contractors exclude many women, but also agency and contractor hiring bypasses the excellent fair employment procedures that Prospect have fought for.

    Claire Mullaly

    06 April 2018 10:15

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