Bridging digital confidence gaps and empowering women in tech
If we have learnt one thing from the COVID-19 pandemic, how its impacted on businesses, showing them that digital is now essential to survival. Today all businesses are becoming Tech businesses. There is no doubt that everyone needs digital skills to succeed in school and working life. Future of work relies strongly on technology and navigating further in the digital world.
As the world is becoming more and more digital, closing the digital confidence gaps are necessary. About half of jobs will change or disappear because of AI, digitalization and new technologies that makes even more important to give everyone the potential to keep up in the pace.
Digital skills gap in technology
According to a recent study by UNESCO (2019), research on ICT abilities of eight grade students in 21 countries showed a global trend of girls excelling better than boys in the given tasks measuring computer skills but having lower self-confidence and self-perceived digital skills. Countries where gender inequalities are wider, girls take more high level computer science studies than in countries where gender inequalities are narrow. More research is required to understand what makes the ICT field more attractive to study for girls and women in Arab countries than for girls and women in European countries.
In this society women are expected to be good at people skills, focusing on soft skills, such as emotions and interpersonal skills. That said, women usually self-assess their digital skills in much lower level than men. When it comes to applying for a new job, women are more often less confident than men. Women must excel 5/5 of the skills requested but for men 1/5 is enough to apply for the job.
Women make approximately 11% of software developers which makes the software that we all use every day mostly built by men. We all have heard about smartphones that doesn’t fit to women’s hands, speech recognition software trained to recognize men voices or Google translate gender bias problems, where a doctor is translated to be man and a nurse to be a woman (for example, in Finnish language where “hän” stands for he and she). As we go, there are real issues to be addressed with gender bias behind machine learning and AI.
Same opportunities, different levels of confidence in digital skills. This is where it starts. Opportunities are given equally but still the gaps are growing. What is acceptable or seen as acceptable future jobs for young women may affect the decision making when applying to schools and after graduation to jobs. Giving opportunities to develop skills and interest in coding, web development, big data and AI, start from the very first grades at school. Techers work in involving and encouraging are in an essential role lifting girls to demonstrate their skills and develop them further.
Why more women in tech?
Tech has a crucial role in our daily lives. It is in one form or another present all the time in everything we do. Most of the applications, software and games are made by businesses founded by men. Lack of minorities often result in technology with one-sided operating system. Our partners and clients say that the talent pools of women professionals in technology is almost non existing. They are ready to act for attracting more women applying for the jobs in order to increase the number of women in their companies as part of their sustainability actions.
Globally, less than 17% of women are in Tech jobs (OECD) and just 12% of AI researchers are women. But the good news is that every day more women are taking IT as a field of study and establish or start working in tech jobs.
Improving confidence is the key
Businesses can help to bridge the digital confidence gaps by consistently growing their talent pools of women professionals in technology, giving them an opportunity to show their competencies and acting on building diversity in the workplace.
Companies must prioritize and participate more and more to connect with the yet undergraduate students. More role models, say Bumble’s Founder and CEO, self-made billionaire, Whitney Wolfe Herd, says everyone can make money at something they are passionate about. It is a great example and influence for young women to grow courage and interest on possibilities tech industry can provide. We need more role models like her.
Truth is that there is still very few female influencers in tech industry and the influencers are who young women follow in social media. Businesses can prioritize that in their sustainability programs to build more diversity in the workplace. Women are also much more likely to join online communities and networks to “meet” peers and receive support of the group. Participating in these networks as tech companies create both visibility and opportunities to exchange with female tech professionals about their needs and requirements that companies should aim at taking into account when recruiting new talents.
To change work system from knowledge based to competence based, what you know is not as important as what you can do and what motivates you. Women might have to work harder to look confident and capable to do the job and it is equally everyone’s responsibility to try to find ways for attracting more women in technology and science, and reducing gender bias since digitalization and AI technologies are fast advancing businesses now and in the future and they need people skills to succeed.
UNESCO for the Equals Skills Coalition (2019), I would blush if I could - closing gender divides in digital skills through education. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could
OECD (2018) Bridging the digital gender divide. http://www.oecd.org/digital/bridging-the-digital-gender-divide.pdf
Lanna Deamer, What we can learn businesses who flourished during COVID? Startups Magazine, https://startupsmagazine.co.uk/article-what-we-can-learn-businesses-who-flourished-during-covid
Kuczmarski, J. (6 Dec, 2018) Reducing gender bias in Google Translate. https://blog.google/products/translate/reducing-gender-bias-google-translate/
Mantha, Y. (17 Aug 2018) Estimating the gender ratio of AI researchers around the world, Element AI. https://medium.com/element-ai-research-lab/estimating-the-gender-ratio-of-ai-researchers-around-the-world-81d2b8dbe9c3
Glaser, E. (28 Feb 2019) Invisible women by Caroline Perez review. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/28/invisible-women-by-caroline-criado-perez-review