No Going Back: why we need gender inclusiveness in the digital economy

No Going Back: why we need gender inclusiveness in the digital economy

The Chatham House Making Gender Equality Happen forum discussed why we need more women in tech

“Women are chronically underrepresented in tech, at all levels.”

Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke, founder and managing director of Women’s Worldwide Web (W4), an online crowdfunding platform promoting girls’ and women’s education worldwide, urged attendees of the Chatham House Gender Inclusiveness in the Digital Economy session to realise the severity of the lack of women in the tech industry.

With the role of the accountant changing dramatically as technological innovation continues, accountants today need to be able to advise their clients on the technical decisions which would be right for their business.

When their clients come to them with questions, they need to be able to tell them which apps would be best, what accounting software they should choose, and how to navigate regulatory changing like Making Tax Digital.

Accounting is not the only profession which needs an in-depth working knowledge of technology. Every industry requires some element of technical understanding. As one delegate in the workshop said, every entrepreneur is a digital entrepreneur.

This means the lack of women and girls learning about technology and then following careers in it is concerning, and a point of contention which this Chatham House event discussed.

The International Policy Forum, which took place in London on 9 and 10 July, was all about making gender equality happen in the workplace around the world.  It was sponsored by EY and full of credible, intelligent, experienced women across business, politics, and academia sharing their advice and opinions on this matter.

Importance of tech education

AI and other developments in technology means the share of low-skilled and high-skilled jobs in any workplace is shifting around and piling on more pressure for every employee to upskill.

Technical innovation is not only affecting certain industries or roles. It is impacting everyone, and women are far more likely to be on the wrong side of the digital skills gap than men.

This means that, not only are women less likely to get a job, they are less likely to move up and progress their careers.

The impact of this is serious for the individual’s career but also has a negative impact on the wider economy. Companies must realise the incredible skills and diversity of ideas women can bring to businesses, and not helping them get in to work could be bad for businesses.

As Vivan Hunt, managing partner at McKinsey & Company, said in an earlier session: “to reduce the gender pay gap women need to engage more in STEM.”

Why are women and girls avoiding STEM subjects?

There appears to be no concrete reason why so few women in the UK choose to study STEM subjects compared with men.

Around the age of 16 is when girls tend to move away from it. They make their A-Level selections and many avoid doing science, technology, engineering, or maths.

This naturally means that far fewer women go on to pursue these subject areas in their careers, but this workshop touched on why that might be to help us find a solution.

One suggestion was role models. Very few female scientists or mathematicians are studied or learned about. Combine this with the fact that the working women in a girl’s life are likely to not be working in a STEM profession, and its easy to see why few women choose it. They don’t have any examples to follow when they are young.

But why did it happen in the first place? One suggestion was the way these subjects are portrayed in the media. Television shows like The IT Crowd and The Big Bang Theory portray people who enjoy science and maths as introverts and disassociated from ‘cool crowds’. These portrayals could actually be putting girls off.

Actions we could take

The objective of the session was to come up with recommendations for submission to the Argentinian W20 chair, and the group came up with a lot of fair actions.

  • Change how we are presenting STEM subjects and related professions in the media to prevent negative connotations that could put women off pursuing them. Stop telling our children that STEM subjects are too hard.
  • Place more of a focus on technology training during schooling.
  • Encourage women to constantly be upskilling themselves through online courses, training, and books.
  • Ensure workplaces in STEM are attractive to women. Organisations can make very simple changes such as changing the language in their job descriptions and on their website which could make a big difference as to whether women apply.

An interesting takeaway from the session was that we need to be supporting women of all ages in developing their technical acumen. We should not only focus on young women, but also recognise that many women in their fifties and above are starting business or progressing in their chosen fields. They need to develop technical skills too.

With the global phenomenon of #MeToo, discussions have been taking place about the gender pay gap around the world for the last year.

Improving access to digital skills for women and girls is only one part of tackling this problem.


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