As the digital economy continues to expand, we must unleash the potential of women so that they can equitably participate in the economy's future growth and become active change agents in this transformation. Progress is being made as we see increased participation of women in digital technology and their enrolment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, but the pace is relatively slow. A lot remains to be done to address this gender gap and increase the participation of women in our economies. While government and enterprises are pivotal in reducing this gender gap, they cannot act alone. It is the responsibility of each one of us to overcome gender stereotypes, social biases, and cliches.

Why does gender equality matter?

As economies progress towards digitisation, social and economic growth will increasingly depend upon people's ability to use technology. Hence basic digital literacy is a must to engage with a digital economy. Despite making up 50% of the world population, we do not see equitable participation of women in the digital economy. This digital gender divide is fuelled primarily due to lack of primary and higher education, technological literacy, professional training, economic opportunities, unequal access to technology/internet and socio-cultural norms, among many other reasons. Gender equality is a fundamental human right and the foundation for a sustainable economy. Empowerment of women through equal access to quality education and health, employment opportunities, and career growth ensures the holistic development of society.

Factors contributing to Gender Inequality

  • Limited access to phones Boys are 1.5 times more likely to get access to smartphones than girls. This pervasive gender inequality inhibits girls' networking opportunities, job opportunities and access to information.
  • Lower proportion of women using the internet The gender gap is more evident when it comes to first-time internet users. Statistics reveal that in India, this number comprises 57% of the male population vs 33% of the female population. Low mobile literacy and a lack of digital skills lead to lower mobile internet usage in women. They need more training and access to technology to boost their digital power
  • Significant gap between the girl population and education infrastructure A sizeable section of the girl population is still deprived of basic education due to insufficient infrastructure, including the physical infrastructure and the wider learning environment. This includes a lack of female teachers, sanitation, clean water, safe public transport, gender-segregated toilets and changing facilities etc, thus discouraging girls from attending schools. It is imperative to assure them of a favourable and safe environment to study
  • Lack of awareness regarding human rights It is necessary to ensure that all girls and young women receive education for an enhanced quality of life, as it is their fundamental right.
  • Gender stereotypes Our unconscious bias often affects our decisions and actions. The common perception is that girls should perform domestic chores and caregiving while men are breadwinners. This prevents girls from attending school, pursuing professional careers, or making individual life choices. Stereotypes are also perpetuated at the corporate level. It's generally believed that men are better leaders than women, so we are more likely to promote them up the ladder
  • Gendergap in employment This is commonly seen in organisational processes and practices, including hiring, training, pay, promotion of women, lack of representation and leadership opportunities. This limits the productivity and creativity of businesses.

Tackling Gender Inequalities

Gender inequality persists in most developing countries and stagnates social progress. Therefore, we must tackle this issue from the early years of the education system so everyone gets the best possible start in life. The other area we need to look at is employment. Despite many companies promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, there is a lack of progress in closing this gender gap, especially as they move up the corporate ladder. Let's understand how we can address this disparity in both these segments.

Education

  • Digital literacy will act as a great enabler for the empowerment of girls. Expose children to elements of the digital era, including digital tools and digital skills and provide them with a strong base for digital literacy during primary education. In the curriculum, incorporate use cases tailored to women's needs and interests, showcasing case studies of women who have overcome socioeconomic barriers to be digitally literate.
  • National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 emphasises improving women's literacy rate. The policy aims to provide equal opportunities for all, regardless of socioeconomic background, gender, or disabilities.
  • An Open School system is an alternate education system that gives children, primarily in rural areas, who cannot and do not go to school access to the same education as those who do attend conventional schools. Through fee exemptions, it primarily aims to educate disadvantaged and vulnerable segments, including girls/women.
  • With more online courses being offered by universities today, girls from remote areas can easily avail of higher education from the comfort of their homes without hampering their regular duties. Due to ease of learning, accessibility, flexibility, and affordability, women from all walks of life can easily pursue an online degree.
  • Encourage the participation of girls in STEM disciplines so that they can perform well in the digital world and be ready to join the workforce.
  • Create awareness among women that education is their human right and a global development priority.

With the advent of the digital age, technology has rapidly developed. Somewhere we need to redefine the parameters of basic literacy such that it also includes digital and financial literacy as its intrinsic part.

Employment

Assuming we have addressed this disparity at the education level and have enough women entering the workforce, we still see a noteworthy percentage of women quitting their jobs. The main reasons comprise family responsibilities, including childcare and health concerns, lack of enabling support systems, especially in remote locations and manufacturing plants, not being given the role they aspired for, lack of mentorship, not getting a seat at the table and no role model. Businesses should follow the below tactics to create an equitable workplace culture and foster long-term retention of women employees:

  • Invest in opportunities to expand their skills and careers to build a diverse pipeline of talent for leadership roles
  • Implement strategies that target diverse applicants to minimise gender bias during hiring
  • Flexible work culture

We all have to join hands to change the mindset of people, support the upward social mobility of women, and reduce the gender gap. We need to combat gender stereotypes in the same way they are formed – use storytelling to redefine what women can do.