Palladium team members around the world sharing their support for 'DigitALL'.
Only 69% of men use the Internet, but that number is even smaller for women at 63%. This 6% difference means 259 million fewer women than men can read this article. This year’s International Women’s Day highlights the importance of digital gender equality and serves as a reminder of the digital gender gap’s social and economic impact.
While the digital gender divide is much wider in low-income countries, advancing digital gender equality is in everyone’s shared interest. But it can only be achieved by closing the growing digital gender gap. This refers to the gender disparity in women and girls’ connectivity to digital infrastructure; digital skills and use of digital tools; participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields; and technical leadership and entrepreneurship.
Digital gender equality allows women and girls to access digital tools, information, and services confidently and securely, increasing their socio-economic potential.
From basic education to the productive economy, digital gender equality can make a positive impact. Consider the importance of digital learning in keeping students connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Or think about the small business owner who can accept digital payments in addition to cash and use data-driven insights to better her business and secure her family’s income.
When women and girls are full participants in all that they set out to do, they can improve their livelihoods, economic security, and resilience.
Why Digital Gender Equality Should Matter to Everyone
Digital technologies have allowed us to build a more connected world, but when women are excluded from constructing that world, they are excluded from building the future. Widening socio-economic exclusion, exacerbated by the growing digital gender gap, is more than a moral failing. It’s a global force of instability that is bad for business.
Women continue to be an enormous untapped resource for the global economy. According to the UN Gender Snapshot, women’s exclusion from the digital world – industries, academia, and the broader technology sector – has cost low- and middle-income countries US$1 trillion over the last 10 years, and will cost another US$500M in the next three years alone.
"We must leverage data and insights to understand the unique barriers women face in accessing digital technology.”
“Women in leadership are vital mentors and advocates for other women and girls; however, women on their own cannot make digital gender equality a reality,” explains Liz Nerad, Palladium Director of Digital Solutions.
“We also need men to be champions for digital gender equality, creating space for women to not just access and use technologies but to innovate and lead.” Men also play a key role in “protecting the rights of women in digital spaces,” one of the key goals highlighted by the UN for this year’s International Women’s Day. Nerad adds that men can advance digital gender equity by supporting women in positions of technical leadership, which will open the door to even more opportunities for inclusive digital transformation that is responsive and representative of all.
How to Address the Digital Gender Gap
The digital gender gap is multidimensional, which is why there are many effective ways to advance digital gender equality. “We can close the digital gender gap by increasing women and girls’ level of connectivity, access to digital skills and tools, participation in STEM fields, and technical leadership,” adds Nerad. “But to understand the full scope of the digital gender divide and track progress toward the goal of digital gender equality, we must leverage data and insights to understand the unique barriers women face in accessing digital technology.”
For women to be full participants in the digital economy, they first need to be connected to digital infrastructure, such as electricity, internet connectivity, and digital devices. They also need to be equipped with the literacy and skills to make full use of those tools. The best time to build digital literacy is during childhood, which is why promoting girls’ digital inclusion is vital to closing the digital gender divide.
Developing basic digital literacy is a pathway to build the more advanced digital skills needed to engage in STEM careers. Digital industries such as ICT are fast-growing, profitable, and highly compensated. Encouraging women and girls into ICT is one way to address the digital divide while advancing economic equality, and we can work to empower women by doing just that. Doing so is a critical step towards closing the global gender pay gap and advancing women and girls’ leadership in tech.
Beyond ICT, all sectors use digital solutions to advance their business operations, which provides additional opportunities to advance women’s economic empowerment. Ecommerce, for example, has the potential to yield major returns by connecting women to untapped markets. Currently, there is a disproportionately low number of women participating in ecommerce because they are unable to access the digital skills and tools they need.
To reduce this gap, women need access to products and services tailored towards them. For example, the eTrade Alliance project in West Bank and Gaza is working to increase adoption of digital payments with a focus on underserved segments including women, allowing for their full economic participation.
But strategies at the individual level must be part of a broader approach. Ricardo Michel, Palladium Senior Managing Partner, speaks to the expansive nature of digital gender equality. “We know that women’s success relies on a broader ecosystem. It doesn’t matter if I build out your skills if you’re not in an enabling environment that can sustain them.” Whether through strengthening the financing ecosystem that connects women to the capital they need, ensuring point of sale processes consider gender, or supporting women in digitising their business operations, truly closing the digital gender gap will require a shift of the whole system.
“We need to build on our positive impact if we hope to sustain transformative impact,” Michel concludes. Closing the gender digital divide is feasible. By increasing women and girls’ connectivity, making digital tools more accessible and affordable, equipping women and girls with the skills they need to lead, and using data to track progress towards digital gender equality, parity is within reach.
For more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or read 'What is Digital Transformation, Anyway?'