Last week, on March 8, many of us celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD). As many people know, it’s an important day which is used as a focal point in the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women. All people are encouraged to participate, and in some countries people even celebrate it as a national holiday.
But I’ve got to ask you, did you know that there’s another IWD theme, which some people believe is actually the official theme? It’s run by the United Nation’s and this year, their theme was ‘DigitALL: Innovation & Technology for Gender Equality.’
While the elements of embracing equity remain crucial when striving toward equality between genders, it turns out that the company behind the International Women’s Day website is a women’s equality marketing agency, Aurora Ventures (Europe). With a business and mission to help women advance (a good thing), Aurora Ventures seized upon an opportunity in 2000, when they felt more work needed to be done to engage the mainstream masses, and encourage and support collective action. Journalist and business woman, Angela Priestley, goes into more detail here, and doesn’t hold back on how she believes we’ve all been duped.
This blog post will explore why more people need to know about the importance of the United Nation’s IWD ‘DigitALL’ theme.
The UN’s IWD ‘DigitALL’ theme
300 years is how long it’s predicted to take before we reach gender equality, and this year, the United Nations IWD theme focused on addressing gender disparities in STEM industries and education arenas. It reflected our ever-progressing society and an effort to bridge existing gaps. It also emphasised the importance of utilising new industry technologies to make advancements towards equality among genders, creating further unity and connection in a world that recognises each individual’s right to be represented equally.
IWD 2023 should have brought the theme of ‘DigitALL: Innovation & Technology for Gender Equality’ to the forefront, especially for anyone working in tech and cybersecurity. It should have highlighted how digital skills can make enormous contributions in narrowing gender gaps in STEM-related fields. Additionally, how when women become empowered through learning digital skills and acquiring tech knowledge, they’re not only better equipped to shape their own destinies, but also better able to contribute to developing competent workforces which would advance economic growth in a sustainable manner.
Had the whole world been aligned on the ‘DigitALL’ theme rather than ‘Embrace Equity’, it could have provided us with a huge opportunity to show the world that gender equity can be achieved by encouraging more women and girls to pursue STEM careers and education.
Gender Gaps in the Digital Realm
The ‘DigitAll’ theme serves to illuminate an urgent issue – closing the gender gap in digital access and education. Though technology has revolutionised daily life and levelled the playing field for many, it’s unintentionally also worsened the gap between genders within STEM industries.
It’s estimated that one in three people globally are classified as ‘digitally excluded‘, with women making up 52% of the group while men make up 42%.
A report by The World Bank says women make up less than a third of the world’s workforce in technology-related fields, that they hold 28% of all jobs in computer and mathematical occupations, and 15.9% of jobs in engineering and architecture occupations.
According to UNESCO, out of all engineering graduates, women account for only 28%, and out of computer science and informatics graduates, they make up a mere 40%.
This lack of female representation in essential fields is what stands between us and an economy rooted in justice and sustainability. Unfortunately, the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 paints a grim picture – the pandemic, climate emergency, large-scale conflicts and displacement have all hindered strides in gender equality.
Startling statistics also show that women are 1.6 times more likely to be let go than men, due to their lower seniority levels relative to male employees in the sector. The tech layoffs that started in 2022 and are still ongoing have been especially severe for women, with research from WomenTech Network revealing that 69.2% of those that were fired were women. Additionally, that a whopping 22% of women in STEM are contemplating leaving their positions, which is substantially higher than the 12% of female workers from other industries. Unjust workplace treatment has been identified as one of the leading causes behind employees’ decisions to quit.
Why the Gap is Detrimental
The gender gap in digital access and education is detrimental not just to women, but to mankind. When women are invested in, all people, communities and countries are uplifted. Men advance more greatly when cultures are more inclusive and equal. According to the United Nations, the last decade has seen USD 1 trillion wiped from the gross domestic product of low and middle income countries. Furthermore, without a plan of action and suitable investment, this figure is projected to skyrocket to USD 1.5 trillion by 2025.
When women are excluded from STEM education, they are denied access to some of the most lucrative and creative job opportunities that exist today or will exist in the future. This affects our ability to innovate, generate new ideas and make progress towards a more equitable world. This also has long-term societal implications, such as increased poverty and gender violence. Digital skills are essential for people to participate in the global economy and take advantage of opportunities that can lead to economic growth.
It’s therefore vital these issues are recognised, and addressed, so we can achieve true equity for all in the digital sphere. Initiatives such as IWD, Women’s History Month, Black Women’s History, the United Nation’s CSW67 which is happening now (March 6-17), plus many more, empower individuals to promote lasting solutions and set an example of inclusion for future generations – creating a truly innovative and equal future.
How Can We Close the Tech Divide between Men & Women?
Technology has become an integral part of our lives, affecting almost every area of work and play. Unfortunately, the digital divide between men and women is perpetuated by disparities in pay and opportunities, as well as a lack of awareness amongst the general population. The only way to close the gender digital divide is through dedicated efforts to promote equal opportunities for all genders, in addition to providing resources that allow women greater access to technology.
The United Nations IWD 2023 emphasised this point by launching the theme “DigitALL: Innovation & Technology for Gender Equality” – which speaks specifically to how individuals can work together with organisations in order to bridge the tech gap across genders. With advancing AI and machine learning technologies, now is certainly the time for us all to come together on this issue and make a real difference.
Although IWD is only one day, we must focus on strategies beyond the day that can help make technology more accessible to women. We must work to close the gender gap, especially in STEM education and career fields. We can do this by introducing young girls to the benefits of technolgy, providing scholarships to female students pursuing a major in computer science or allied fields, having equal representation of women on tech teams, encouraging women to lead their own projects, and not tolerating toxic behaviour. In fact, I came up with 30 ways anyone can help, no matter their gender or level which you can download here.
By reducing workplace inequity and increasing access to digital tools and resources, we can foster an environment of creativity, innovation, and opportunity. Women must be encouraged to pursue careers they are interested in while continuing to break barriers in the technology field. Let’s strive together towards gender parity with a focus on Digital Innovation so that all people have access to opportunities empowered with innovation and technology.
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