World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013

  • Decoding the Digital Gender Divide

    By Nilmini Rubin

    Thursday 24th January 2013 - 12:30pm - 1:45pm

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  • These insights were written by Nilmini Rubin, Director, Government Relations, Information Technology Industry Council, USA.

    Synopsis

    How can the full potential of information technologies be harnessed to close the gender divide? This is a critical question. Our societies are being transformed by technological change and we are seeing more job growth in technology. As tech is a key to our future, we need to make sure that women are not left behind.  

    Though mobile phone use is proliferating – there are more mobile phones in use than toilets – women still have less mobile phone access than men. This can exacerbate the existing education, finance, and health divides as mobile phones are a critical tool. Intel’s Women and the Web report shows that there are 200 million fewer women than men on the Internet. In Africa, men are almost twice as likely as women to be on the Internet.

    Some women in Egypt said that there was nothing they needed on the Internet because they had no idea of what was on the Web. Around the world, girls are turned off to careers in technology because of the lack of fellow female classmates, a perceived “geekiness” of the industry, and lack of encouragement.

    Though some gender differences are culturally ingrained, thoughtful measures can be taken to slowly change culture; products can be created specifically for women. In Turkey, for example, there are some Internet cafés that cater to women-only, which allows women to use the Internet without harassment. In Saudi Arabia, a minister decided to integrate the Intel Science Prize ceremonies for girls and boys to encourage them equally. In Malawi, an NGO provided biometric smart cards for women to store their money, helping to ensure that the women maintained control of their own funds. In Iraq, communications products were designed to connect them with their children.

    Gender inclusion should be standardized so that development and technology policies and programmes ensure that the needs of women are addressed, with the active involvement with women. Companies should roll out products that serve women’s needs. Governments and development agencies should integrate technology, particularly broadband penetration, into their overall infrastructure policy so wires can be laid at the same time as roads and bridges are built.  

    The oversubscribed discussion with Bill Brindley from Nethope, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, Nasser Marafih from the Qtel Group, Jeannette Wing from Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft Research was skilfully moderated by Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International. Frederick Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden, shared final comments. 

    Though there are significantly more men than women at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I was still surprised that the gender technology gap was reflected in the speakers for our session – only one of the six presenters was a woman. That said, it was refreshing to be in a discussion about gender inclusion that was not women-only.  

    Key Points

    • We are at a tipping point with the explosion of mobile technology and increase in Internet access. With technology increasingly important to our global tomorrow, women must be a larger part of the creation and use of technology around the world. 
    • Businesses, governments and development agencies must integrate gender and technology into their ongoing efforts.
    • Culture is a major cause of the digital gender divide. Societal change is necessary so that technology can help close – not exacerbate – the gap.

    Disclosures

    The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.

Session objectives

How can the full potential of information technologies be harnessed to close the gender divide?

Dimensions to be addressed:

  • Engaging girls in computer science
  • Leveraging collaborative platforms
  • Targeting ICT skills gaps

Rapporteur

  • Nilmini Rubin Nilmini Rubin
    Senior Adviser, US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, USA

    BA in Economics and Development Studies, and MBA, University of California, Berkeley. Former: Senior...

Speakers

  • William A. Brindley William A. Brindley
    Senior Advisor

    Graduate (Hons), American University; graduate degrees, including Doctorate in Organizational Renewa...

  • Nasser Marafih Nasser Marafih
    Group Chief Executive Officer, Ooredoo, Qatar

    BSc in Electrical Engineering, and MSc and PhD in Communication Engineering, George Washington Univ....

  • Jeannette M. Wing Jeannette M. Wing
    Vice-President, Head of Microsoft Research International, Microsoft Corporation, USA

    BSc, MSc and PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2007-10, Assistant Director, Computer and I...

  • Fredrik Reinfeldt Fredrik Reinfeldt
    Prime Minister of Sweden

    1990-91, Deputy Secretary to Stockholm City Commissioner; 1991, Secretary to Stockholm City Commissi...

  • Nicholas D. Kristof Nicholas D. Kristof
    Columnist, The New York Times, USA

    1981, BA (Hons), Harvard University; BA (Hons) and MA (Hons) in Law and Rhodes Scholar, University o...

  • Nilmini Rubin Nilmini Rubin
    Senior Adviser, US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, USA

    BA in Economics and Development Studies, and MBA, University of California, Berkeley. Former: Senior...

Moderated by

  • Nigel Chapman Nigel Chapman
    Chief Executive Officer, Plan International, United Kingdom

    1977-2009, with BBC: produced and edited current affairs shows such as Nationwide, Newsnight and Bre...

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