Gender Inequality

Women are still on the wrong side of the digital skills gap

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to participants of a Girls' Day career event at the Chancellery to attract female pupils to careers in IT, technological and natural science sectors of the German industry in Berlin, Germany, April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The proportion of men using the internet was 12% higher than women in 2017. Image: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Lin Taylor
Journalist, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Gender Inequality?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Gender Inequality is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Gender Inequality

Poverty, gender discrimination and digital illiteracy are leaving women behind as the global workforce increasingly uses digital tools and other technologies, experts warned on Tuesday.

The so-called "digital divide" has traditionally referred to the gap between those who have access to computers and the internet, and those with limited or no access.

But technology experts say women and girls with poor digital literacy skills will be the hardest hit and will struggle to find jobs as technology advances.

"Digital skills are indispensable for girls and young women to obtain safe employment in the formal labour market," said Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke, founder of Women's Worldwide Web, a charity that trains girls in digital literacy.

She said "offline factors" like poverty, gender discrimination and gender stereotypes were preventing girls and women from benefiting from digital technologies.

Globally, the proportion of men using the internet in 2017 was 12 percent higher than women, says the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency.

Image: ITU

There are also 200 million fewer women than men who own a mobile phone, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a March report.

"Women are currently on the wrong side of the digital skills gap. In tech, it's a man's world. We have a global problem, we have an urgent problem on our hands," said Nefesh-Clarke at a gender equality forum run by Chatham House in London on Tuesday.

According to a 2017 study by the Brookings Institution, a U.S. think tank, the use of digital tools has increased in 517 of 545 occupations since 2002 in the United States alone, with a striking uptick in many lower-skilled occupations.

"The entire economy is shifting, and we need new skills to be able to cope with that new economy," said Dorothy Gordon, a technology expert and associate fellow with Chatham House.

"So when we look at the jobs that women are in today, what are the skillsets that they will need to acquire to be able to be competitive in that job market as we move forward?" she said.

Even with new jobs emerging through online or mobile platforms, such as rideshare apps Uber or Lyft; domestic services or food couriers, women are still faring worse than men, research shows.

A U.S. study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in June found the gender pay gap among Uber drivers was 7 percent.

"Many of the challenges that come through digital work are, frankly, old wine in new bottles," said Abigail Hunt, a gender researcher at the British-based Overseas Development Institute, referring to the Uber study.

She said safety concerns, gender bias and discrimination contributed to how much women could earn in the so-called "gig economy".

"Discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, geographical location, age - it's the same issues we've always seen that are discriminating against women," Hunt said.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Gender InequalityEducation
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Why clear job descriptions matter for gender equality

Kara Baskin

February 22, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum