While digitalisation is creating opportunities, new technologies are also bringing in new risks in the form of gender inequality. Clearly, we are at a crossroad. Is the digital industry offering new tools to create a more equal society or will it increase the existing gender divide?
by: Marina Andrieu
photo: Chris Barbalis on Unsplash
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Low representation of women in IT
Currently, women working and studying in IT are still a minority. And unfortunately in Europe, the number has not changed much over the last 10 years, according to the European Commission.
What is stopping girls from becoming well-paid developers, cyber consultants or data scientists? What is preventing women from being CEOs of new tech startups? Certainly not the law.
If you think of the most used products, websites or apps today: Facebook, Instagram, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter … all were created by men … Indeed until recently, girls were nowhere to be seen near high school computer clubs. This is changing, but the “geek” stereotype, a guy, is still very present in the collective mind. This is worrying because despite the well-paid job opportunities there is still a shortage of talents in Europe. Could gender be a part of the answer?
In the meantime, our new digital society is currently shaped by men. Women spend their money on products developed by men. Companies are starting to recognize that they might be overlooking business opportunities. They are starting to realise that to better reflect societal needs, every project requires a diverse team.
“Social media has proven to create social pressure if they allow women to express themselves like in the #metoo movement.”
Risk of cyberbullying and gender bias in AI
Today, there are an increasing number of gender bias alerts in AI. As algorithms only amplify human biases, there is a real risk that women will suffer from new forms of discrimination, from applying to a job to applying for financial services.
Social media has proven to create social pressure if they allow women to express themselves like in the #metoo movement. But it does not come without risks and unfortunately in some cases abuse. In the meantime, studies show that even though women are happy to use social media to share pictures, they are less inclined to express their political views on the internet and even refrain to comment on what they disagree with, in fear of backlash*.
There are still many cases of women being harassed on the internet… It’s a fact that girls and women are more at risk when it comes to cyberbullying and online violence. It can be expressed via aggressive messages, stalking and threats. New trendy services, such as dating and car booking apps, put women in danger of being assaulted or targeted. Girls playing video games need to pretend to be men while online, if they don’t want to be insulted there.
“Raising awareness at all ages is crucial to building responsible behaviour and making sure we can live in a more balanced world.”
Impact on new jobs
The digital industry might indeed offer new alternatives for women: new jobs, flexible time, access to new markets and clients across borders. The dream of many, seeking work-life balance through “working from home” is accessible. But does this also mean stability in terms of the job and income? Or, is this also pushing for transformation of part-time jobs into more freelancing gigs?
Thinking of jobs, automation also means that many services, low paid jobs, often held by women are at risk. Think about the cashier in the supermarket or the admin assistant in the offices, occupations mainly held by women. What if these jobs are replaced by a robot tomorrow? We are seeing a growing expansion of self-service cash registers over the past few years. In health and education sectors where women traditionally form a majority, technologies are quickly modifying the working environment.
This is why gender and digital are important topics today. Raising awareness at all ages is crucial to building responsible behaviour and making sure we can live in a more balanced world, both online and offline.
*Digital in youth work, report for Romanian presidency, 2018.
- Cyber violence against women, a European Institute for Gender Equality article
- Include, Upskill, Innovate – Bridging the Digital Gender Divide, a OECD report 2018
- Women in Artificial Intelligence: Mitigating the Gender Bias, 2019
- Developing digital youth work. Policy recommendations, training needs and good practice examples for youth workers and decision-makers, EU Publications 2018
- Cyber violence and hate speech online against women, Study Paper published by the European Parliament
- We have to fight for a fairer tech industry for women, a World Economic Forum publication 2019
- Is Technology Widening the Gender Gap Automation and the Gender Gap Automation and the Future of Female Employment, IMF working paper 2019
- Gender, skills and precarious work in the EU, a Research note by the European Institute of Gender Equality
- Fostering Gender Equality in the Workplace: Developing Inclusive Labour Markets for Women across the EU, ESF (European Social Fund) 2018 publication
This article was first published in the Silicon Luxembourg magazine. Get a copy now!