The answer to the question of whether technology can contribute to gender equality is simple – Yes it can, given that there is immense scope for doing so. A few startling statistics about women and the Internet and technology based devices will bear this out. In 2017 there were 350 million more men than women who have a smart phone and the chances are 21% that they are less likely to own one in most parts of the world. Most surprisingly, this gender gap is growing over the years and this trend is totally incomprehensible considering that women are playing an equal role to men in most sectors and industries, albeit in smaller numbers.
There is one aspect that is particularly worrying. In spite of the clear benefits of ensuring gender equality through technology and making sure that they have equal access to all the latest technology driven innovations, why cannot women be made a part of creating it too. This is more so when studies have proved that women excel in this profession and even help in getting higher returns than men. Technology companies headed by women show 21% higher return on investments than those controlled by men. If 600 million more women had access to technology and were able to come online, it would boost GDP in the USA alone by almost $18 billion. Just imagine what gender equality and technology can do to the economic scenario of any country.
Simply put, the world would definitely benefit if women and girls had more access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and had a greater say in new innovations and developments. That they do not is because of the prevailing mindsets that have percolated down through the ages. There is an urgent need to break through existing social barriers and move mental obstacles out of the way to ensure that technology becomes a medium for increased gender equality and participation of women in this field.
There is therefore an urgent necessity to first remove age old blocks and increase women representation in ICT programmes and careers. The drawback is that so far as careers are concerned there is a great deal of stereotyping prevailing in all corners of the globe which is actually very harmful. Men and boys are deemed to be a natural fit for computers, engineering and technology based projects while women and girls are considered to be ideal as nurses, sales or any other “soft” work. The focus is more on “biological sex” than ability and merit. If there is a need for security alarm systems installation in Melbourne men will be called in, if aged care in a residential setting is the call of the hour women will be the first choice. This type of labelling is detrimental for society at large. Incidentally, One-Tech Security, a leading provider of security systems in Melbourne employs many women in their technology and product improvement division.
The point then is how to bridge this gap? The first step has to be taken by progressive employers who are concerned with gender equality and encourage women and girls to work in their tech based departments. Columns in job applications that ask for sex of the applicants need to be done away with. Anonymous hiring can iron out these issues. Once, women find that they are much sought after by employers, they will take to tech based courses and programmes to further career prospects. Employers too can sponsor existing employees for knowledge updating and enhancing skill sets to specialised tech based courses.
The path to use technology to ensure gender equality is not easy especially for companies operating on a global plane. They have to contend with various social issues of different countries including hurdles such as patriarchy and fixed gender roles. However, the silver lining to all these is the role and efforts of many international organisations to do away with this gender divide through proper education and learning.