Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt yesterday repeated the government's intent to increase the number of women employed in science, engineering and technology, by rolling several recent schemes together under one policy umbrella.

Although women make up half of the workforce, only one in five IT positions are filled by women. The situation is most apparent in software engineering where women make up a tiny eight percent of the workforce.

"An IT industry dominated by men is only using half the available talent and creativity. This is a particular cause for concern in an industry that, despite current economic conditions, has a growing demand for skilled labour," said Hewitt.

So the DTI is pulling together several school-based schemes for getting more girls involved as well as including its Work Life Balance Fund, announced yesterday, to push for a more gender-balanced IT society.

Some say this gap is down to differences between women and men.

"Women just aren't as interested in IT as men. From an early age boys are playing computer games, looking at how things work, whereas girls are more interested in other areas," said Hayden Male, director of IT recruitment firm Anderson Recruit. "Women just don't want to go into this roles. Employers could do more to address this problem like introducing crèches for mothers and making more flexible."

Of the 150,000 IT positions Anderson Recruit has available only around 15 percent of applicants are women and only five percent of these women actually go on to fill these positions.

But it's unclear why women aren't filling these positions and to suggest women are uninterested in IT is nonsense.

"Women need female role models to look up to. The idea that women are as suited as well as men to IT jobs needs to be permeated throughout companies starting at the top. Top positions need to be filled by women," said Elizabeth varley, director of IT news site Online Content UK.

"Information technology is seen as a male occupation and the prospect of working in a male-dominated industry may deter some women," agreed Gillian Law, senior correspondent with IDG's UK News Service. "I think women do have to try harder than men in such industries as often women aren't taken seriously."

It seems that women are as suited to these positions as men.

"If you have the skills you can do the job whether you are male or female," added Law.

There is still a level of sexism in what is supposed to be one of the most progressive of industries. According to the DTI, female graduate computer scientists earn an average salary of £14,000 while their male counterparts are bringing in £17,000.

But although the DTI is aware of this its scheme is doing little to address this.

"The only way to change things is by encouraging more women to get in there and demand fair pay," said a spokesman for the DTI.

This is not the first time Hewitt has launched a programme to encourage women to take towards these positions. Back in October she introduced a scheme to promote the benefits of IT to schoolgirls, called IT Compass.

At a school level, under the IT Compass scheme free software will be made available to all schools running computer clubs, talks will be held in schools to promote the benefits of science, engineering and technology careers and a new online service IT compass will be available free online offering career advice to women.

"We must challenge the misconceptions about gender in these professions," said Hewitt.