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Closing the Gender Tech Gap

 4 min read / 

The gender pay gap dominates the headlines. Recently, Iceland made it illegal and pledged to eradicate it by 2022 and the British state broadcaster, the BBC, has cut the gender pay gap to 7.6%. But there is a less well-known divide between men and women: the gender tech gap, which is the systematic under-representation of women in ICT, top management and academic careers. The WEF report on the future of jobs presented in January 2018 at the World Economic Forum in Davos found that 57% of the jobs set to be displaced by technology between now and 2026 belong to women. According to Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s head of education, gender and work:

“We’re really looking at a worsening of inequality, particularly in IT but across all sectors”

How Wide Is the Gender Tech Gap

Female employees are underrepresented across the workforces of eight industry giants according to Statista.

According to the OECD brochure “Empowering women in the digital age”, summarising the initial findings of the forthcoming report “Bridging the Digital Gender Divide”, women are less likely to hold a senior leadership position in the mobile communication industry. They also only made up 17% of the scientists earning more than $105,000 in 2015. Furthermore, in the ICT industry, women quit at more than twice the rate men do, 41% as opposed to 17%.

While the gender tech gap is greater in developing countries, the gender gap in mobile broadband access is 45% in Sub-Saharan Africa and up to 50% in some parts of rural Asia, there are divides also in developed nations. Internet usage among women is below that of men in countries such as Turkey (by 16%), Italy (6%), and Germany (3%).

In addition, if we consider inventors, in 2015, almost 80% of all tech patents filed at key intellectual property offices worldwide came from teams of only men.

Understanding the Roots of the Gender Tech Gap

The OECD brochure reports that for intended career paths before the age of 15, girls are half as likely to aspire a career as an engineer, scientist or architect, but three times more likely to want to become a health professional. Girls are less likely to study STEM subjects at school (64% of girls vs. 83% of boys) and this continues through university and their careers, according to the “Women in Technology” study by PwC. Moreover, they make only 20% of STEM graduates, said the OECD. Among the few women who become researchers in STEM, only 20% of them are corresponding authors, a proxy for leadership in the world of research.

These preferences are also due to parental influence: another OECD report states that parents are much more likely to expect their sons
to work in STEM careers than their daughters, even if they show the same ability. There are also gender-science stereotypes in place since men are stereotypically considered more competent than women in technology, innovation and engineering. In recruiting, informal networks advantage men. Finally, 40% of US women in science, engineering and technology jobs reported a  lack of role models, nearly half reported lacking mentors, and 84% reported lacking sponsors.

How To Bridge the Divide

The UN recommends promoting women in innovation incubators and has a portfolio of projects worldwide to achieve this objective.

UNESCO advises, at a societal level, to put in place policies and legislation that promotes STEM education, as well as using media efforts to promote more gender-diverse representations of STEM occupations. At a family-level, it suggests parents motivate girls to engage in STEM, fight misconceptions about STEM careers and engage in STEM education. At schools, it is important to remove bias from learning materials and strengthen teaching practices. Facilitating access to gender-responsive career counselling, mentorship opportunities, scholarships and fellowships would be great ideas.

The OECD suggests that digital platforms may enable women to access to markets, knowledge and more flexible working arrangements. If women are not to be left behind in the ever-expanding tech sector the problem has to be tackled now. 

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