The IT industry needs to consider radical measures such as positive discrimination if it is to tackle the woeful representation of women at its highest levels, experts have warned.
A study by academics at Cambridge University has accused the IT sector of both failing to attract, and actively discriminating against, older workers and women.
Adam Turner, a partner at headhunters Odgers Ray & Berndston, said that while the IT sector had done well when it came to embracing workers of different colours and creeds, it still had a long way to go in attracting high-calibre women employees.
"If you took 100 chief information officers most would be 50 to 60-year-old Anglo-Saxon males.
"But if you looked at the CEOs or board members of those same companies you’d be sure to find some that were women," he said.
General management skills, such as change management, offshoring and business development were becoming much more of a premium when it came to filling CIO positions, meaning candidates had less need for hard technical skills.
But the difficulty remained the fact that, at graduate level, IT was simply not an attractive enough career option for women, he worried.
"Firms need to be more proactive about hiring women at graduate and junior level. And it is almost a case, at CIO level, of needing positive discrimination, although I’m not sure where the candidate pool would come from," he suggested.
The Cambridge University study found that, despite eight out of ten IT staff being under 45, and more than half were younger than 35, the number of under-25s going into IT in Britain had nearly halved since 1995 to just 6.7 per cent.
By contrast, the number of under-25s in Germany's IT sector had almost trebled in the same period.
A negative attitude towards older workers was partly to blame for the falling numbers of young people choosing a career in IT, it suggested.
To make matters worse, at the same time as new entrants into the industry were plummeting, the proportion of older workers in IT was growing far more slowly than the proportion of over-50s in the wider workforce.
And the number of women working in UK IT had almost halved in the past four years from 100,900 in 1999 to just 53,700 in 2003, it found.