Author : Naghma Mulla

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 01, 2024 Updated 0 Hours ago

The digital revolution opens new avenues for women's economic participation, however, to ensure true inclusion, this revolution must be steered by gender-sensitive policies

Inclusive digital policies are key to mould women leaders

The digital revolution has significantly altered our day-to-day interactions, market dynamics, and consumption habits. The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated this transformation, normalising remote work and expanding our understanding of workplace environments.

The 2023 Women's Entrepreneurship Report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows that 57.5 percent of women entrepreneurs are set to integrate more digital tools in the next six months, while about 25 percent have already embraced new digital technologies during the pandemic. This trend highlights the increasing significance of digital platforms in empowering women-led businesses. By enabling innovation and expanding market access, these tools are becoming essential for economic growth and development in the business sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated this transformation, normalising remote work and expanding our understanding of workplace environments.

However, in this rapidly evolving digital scenario, it is important not to lose sight of the intersectional challenges, especially concerning gender equality.

The current outlook

Women are currently at a disadvantage in digital skills, a gap that becomes critical in workplaces where these capabilities are increasingly indispensable. UNICEF’s Girls Digital Literacy in the East Asia and Pacific Region Report, 2023, finds that women are 25 percent less likely to utilise technology for basic tasks. Although digital literacy levels are comparable between girls and boys in early education, a significant gap emerges later, with girls less likely to acquire advanced digital skills.

The rise of user-friendly artificial intelligence (AI) technology and automation is catalysing an unprecedented shift in our work processes. However, these technological advancements also pose challenges, particularly regarding job security. AI and automation bring the risk of job displacement, a threat disproportionately affecting women. According to the Gender, Technology, and Future of Work report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an estimated 180 million women worldwide are at high risk of job displacement due to these emerging technologies.

AI and automation bring the risk of job displacement, a threat disproportionately affecting women.

Additionally, digital technologies, especially AI itself, exhibit biases against women. Studies have also indicated that AI systems used in resume screening tend to replicate and intensify existing human gender biases, impacting women's chances in recruitment processes. A study commissioned by UniBank discovered that AI algorithms mimic the gender biases shown by human recruiters in resume screening, favouring male candidates over female candidates. Such advanced systems, mainly when operating without sufficient transparency, heighten concerns due to their potential to perpetuate and amplify existing biases.

Policies for a positive impact

Women bring the much-required diverse perspectives to corporations and instil better values at work. There is a significant correlation between the presence of gender-diverse leadership teams and a company's financial success. Research by McKinsey shows that companies with high gender diversity in their leadership are 48 percent more likely to achieve financial outperformance than those with the least gender diversity. Further, closing the gender gap can add US$12 trillion to the global GDP. Therefore, ensuring the retention of women in workplaces and enabling the advancement of their careers is not only a moral imperative but also a wise economic decision.

Given the complex interplay of gender and technology, adopting inclusive digital policies becomes crucial in this scenario. Such policies are critical to ensuring a level playing field for women in the workforce, safeguarding their career progression, and ensuring that they are the world’s leaders in sustainable progress.

With access to digital education and training, companies across sectors can curate training courses for women to gain essential, in-demand skills.

A 2017 World Economic Forum (WEF) research pegged the half-life of a skill at about five years. This means the skill would only be half as valuable every five years. IBM estimates this is even less—at 2.5 years—for more technical skills. Moreover, growing gaps in digital talent can also lead to increased time, risks and costs associated with recruitment. Considering the disruptions that the digital world ushers in, reskilling and upskilling are paramount.

With access to digital education and training, companies across sectors can curate training courses for women to gain essential, in-demand skills. Such skilling courses can empower women in their current roles and unlock opportunities for their career advancement and participation in emerging tech sectors. However, these initiatives must be tied with clear career progression, financial gains and promotions. A study conducted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Gallup across nine countries in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region reveals a confidence gap in digital skills between women and men. The research suggests that women feel less assured about their digital skills and capacity to develop the skills needed for future opportunities. Further, the study highlighted a significant gender gap in career advancement from digital skills training, with over 10 percent of men more likely to gain promotional opportunities than women. This indicates women face disparities in benefiting from such training.

A strategic approach to skill development can avoid these pitfalls. Effective programmes should ensure substantial participation of women and the involvement of women leaders in curriculum design. These programmes, featuring gender-neutral content and flexible formats, are vital for adapting to changing job markets. They are especially beneficial for women re-entering the workforce after a career break, helping them regain confidence and competence in the face of rapid digital advancements.

Effective programmes should ensure substantial participation of women and the involvement of women leaders in curriculum design.

A multifaceted approach is necessary to address gender bias in AI, a critical issue stemming from skewed training data and homogenous development teams.

  • Diversifying the datasets used in AI training is essential to reflect a range of genders, ethnicities, and ages. Equally important is ensuring diversity among the AI developers, bringing varied perspectives to the design and implementation process.
  • AI companies should actively recruit and support women and underrepresented groups in tech roles, fostering a more inclusive industry. Continuous monitoring for biases in AI outputs and algorithm adjustments is also vital.
  • Industry-wide ethical standards and guidelines should be established and followed to ensure consistent efforts in mitigating bias across all AI applications.

Several companies now recognise the potential of digital platforms to be customised to address women’s career growth. Digital coaching offers women a flexible and accessible tool for professional advancement. It caters to individual learning styles and schedules, ideal for those juggling multiple roles. Focusing on key areas like leadership and confidence, they help women navigate workplace challenges effectively. Additionally, it connects them with a global network of mentors and peers, providing valuable support and broadening their professional horizons. This approach effectively breaks down geographical barriers and creates new opportunities and guidance pathways.

Focusing on key areas like leadership and confidence, they help women navigate workplace challenges effectively.

The digital revolution opens new avenues for women's economic participation, offering access to global markets, remote work, and tech-driven sectors. However, to ensure true inclusion, this evolution must be steered by gender-sensitive policies. These policies should address the digital gender gap, online harassment, and women's underrepresentation in tech, providing equal access to digital education and resources. Additionally, they must create safe online work environments, promote women in tech leadership, and consider unique challenges like work-life balance. With such focused policies, digital advancements can become a catalyst for gender equality and empower women's active participation in the economy.


Naghma Mulla is the Chief Executive Officer at EdelGive Foundation and a member of the Foundation's Board of Directors.

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