Fourth Industrial Revolution

How to close the digital gender divide and empower women

young girl receiving online lesson - digital gender divide

COVID-19 widened the existing digital gender divide. Image: Pexels.

Ayumi Moore Aoki
Founder and CEO, Women in Technology
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Fourth Industrial Revolution

  • Men are 52% more likely to have access to the internet than women in the world’s least developed countries.
  • Bridging this digital gender divide requires improved access to internet devices, education and training.
  • Real world examples highlight how, with the right support, women are being empowered and enabled to join the digital revolution.

Our world has undergone a historical moment of change. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our lives and societies are more digital than ever before, shifting the paradigm of our economies from the physical to the digital space.

On the one hand, COVID-19 increased the existing digital gender divide, setting equality between men and women back a generation. On the other hand, the digital acceleration fueled by the current sanitary and economic crisis, represents a historic opportunity we must seize for radical change.

Turning digital access challenges into opportunities for women

Globally, men are 21% more likely to have access to the internet than women. In the world’s least developed countries, this likelihood rises to 52%. Women facing intersectional discrimination, living in communities with lower socioeconomic status, have even lower access to connectivity or any digital device, leading to a string of tremendous consequences, sometimes even vital ones.

Regional variance of the gender gap. Credit: World Wide Web Foundation. digital gender divide
Regional variance of the gender gap. Credit: World Wide Web Foundation. Image: World Wide Web Foundation

Such is the tragic story of Aishwarya Reddy, a bright 19-year-old scholar of New Delhi University’s LSR College who couldn’t afford to buy a laptop and came under tremendous stress as she couldn’t attend her online classes. She took her own life in November 2020 just before the exams.

Aishwarya’s death although tragic, was not in vain. It has raise awareness on the underlying problem, the existing digital gender divide, and its direct consequences on access to education and mental health. It also started a wave of solidarity that crossed borders.

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Sampark, a local non-profit organization, identified 120 other female students from the same school who were suffering from not having a digital device. Although time was short before the start of the final exams, Sampark partnered with Women in Tech and launched a fundraising campaign to buy 120 laptops for the girls. Thanks to its global community of 200,000 members, the goal was reached in time, providing the young women with computers to pursue their studies.

Upskilling to bridge the digital gender divide

Giving internet access and equipment is one thing, however, access to qualified education and training is another. Knowing that 85% of jobs in 2030 don’t exist yet and will derive from new technologies, we realize how important it is to have women come to the industry.

Within the G20 countries, women represent less than 15% of ICT professionals and this gender and skills gap is getting wider every year. There are numerous reasons for this, from gender stereotypes and biases to societal and cultural barriers.

It is Women in Tech’s mission to tackle these obstacles to empower women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Our global non-profit organization is impacting women’s lives across four primary areas focusing on education, business, digital inclusion, and advocacy. Our roadmap is ambitious: growing by 25 chapters annually for the next three years, to be present in 100 countries by the end of 2024.

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EDISON Alliance: What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?

This is why we have joined the World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance – a global movement of leaders from the public and private sector who are committed to prioritizing digital inclusion so every person can affordably participate in the digital economy. Through the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, Women in Tech has committed to empowering 1 million women and girls in STEM through skilling, mentorship, advocacy, and community support by 2025.

“With women only holding a fraction of major tech jobs, we need innovative women-centred approaches that inspire young girls and women to – not only join – but lead the digital revolution. Women in Tech is helping women embrace technology and we are delighted to have them contributing to the EDISON Alliance’s 1 Billion Lives vision for digital inclusion,” said Isabelle Mauro, Head of ICT Industries at the World Economic Forum and Board Member of Women in Tech.

When it comes to women, ROI = Return on Impact

Providing women with digital skills can be life-changing. In July 2018, we launched our first Summer Coding Camp designed to teach women the fundamentals of web development. Fifty women from 35 different countries took part in this three-week online programme.

Some of the participants continued their upskilling journey, like Dina Damjanovik from North Macedonia, a young woman with an 18-month-old baby who was working in a hostel and became a front-end developer. Today, Dina is the managing director of a software SME in Skopje and she mentors women to enter the technology space.

Dina Damjanovik went from working in a hostel to become managing director of a software SME. Credit: Women in Tech.
Dina Damjanovik went from working in a hostel to becoming the managing director of a software company. Image: Women in Tech

Women pay it forward in many different ways: mentoring others, educating children, driving business.

Ayumi Moore Aoki, Founder and CEO, Women in Technology

The Return on Investment (ROI) of skilling women has ripple effects that extend beyond the money invested. They stretch across communities as women pay it forward in many different ways: mentoring others, educating children, driving business. We should see it as 'Return on Impact'.

The digital transformation enabled by the pandemic is a powerful opportunity to multiply reach across borders and time zones, making education and training available to women through online programmes. A new learning experience tailored around the needs of real women: flexibility, accessibility, and reduced costs. Additionally, remote work offers women more job opportunities and a better work-life integration.

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