Technology and the Gender Gap


Gender inequality does not only affect females; when half the population is denied their full potential; the world, as a whole, is at great disadvantage. Access to technology, control of it, and the ability to create and shape it, is a fundamental issue of female’s human rights. Although there is an increase in awareness in this regard, progress has been slow; yet, there is an optimistic case to be made for the future, as technology provides tools to tackle gender inequality and empower females.

To begin with, while there are many explanations for the gender pay gap, one major contributing factor has been the role of females as caregivers. The emerging contingent workforce—a labor pool hired on an on-demand basis, consisting of freelancers, independent contractors and consultants—is providing a much-needed solution to this problem by breaking down physical, geographic, and social barriers. Remote work platforms allow millions of females to work from anywhere in the world for anyone in the world, allowing them to access remote, but exciting opportunities.

On the other hand, female scientists are accounted for only 29% of assigned talks and 27% of invited speakers in conferences. Speaking engagements can often play a pivotal role in career development, and this lack of female representation means fewer females are offered the opportunity to share their ideas and inspire others. Digital platforms that aim to solve this problem act as visibility bureaus for entrepreneurial, technical, and innovative female leaders.

However, technology is not just an important tool to be used by females; it reflects the people who create it, so females need to be able to have a significant role in shaping it. Females earn only 28% of computer science degrees and hold only 25% of computing jobs; they also hold only 11% of executive positions at ICT companies. The lack of females in technology roles contributes to a vicious cycle where younger females are deterred from entering the industry due to lack of inspiration and role models. Educational organizations are starting to address this by approaching girls from a very young age. Nevertheless, it is not enough for young females to simply gain competitive technical and soft skills; they need support systems, mentorships, and networks that will allow them to truly accelerate their careers.

Different Challenges—Diverse Solutions

It is important to recognize that, while females in some parts of the world are fighting for equal opportunities, females in other regions are fighting for very basic rights. Closing the global gender gap involves recognizing the diverse needs of females in different parts of the world. Technology is used to address the needs and challenges of females in developing or high-risk regions.

On average across the developing world, nearly 25% fewer women than men have access to the Internet, and the gender gap soars to nearly 45% in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. Even in rapidly growing economies the gap is wide; nearly 35% fewer women than men in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa have Internet access; and nearly 30% in parts of Europe and across Central Asia. In most higher-income countries, women’s Internet access only minimally lags that of men’s, and in countries such as France and the United States, in fact exceeds it.

Studies show that women in the developing world have significantly lower technology participation rates than men; a result of entrenched socio-cultural attitudes about the role of women in society. Without access to the Internet, females lack access to its tools, resources, and opportunities. When those females are able to engage with Internet technology, a wide range of personal, family, and community benefits become possible. The key to these benefits is online education, the access to which sets up a positive feedback loop.

Although access to the Internet is spreading rapidly in developing countries, women are nearly 25% less likely than men to be online. This gender gap—which today prevents a staggering 200 million women from participating online—is projected to continue. A dedicated and coordinated effort by the public and private sector is urgently needed to accelerate the pace of progress in bridging this gap.

A Fairer Future

Studies demonstrate that Internet access and usage boosts female’s income and income potential; the web is used to search and apply for jobs, in addition to earning additional income. Moreover, accessing and using the Internet increases female’s sense of empowerment. More than 70% of Internet users consider it “liberating” and 85% say it “provides more freedom”; it also increases female’s sense of equity.

Without any concerted action, new female Internet users will come online simply as a result of organic growth in Internet penetration; however, progress can be accelerated to double the number of women and girls online. Doubling the women and girls online is ambitious, but it is an opportunity worth urgently pursuing, because the faster the internet gender gap is closed, the sooner women, their families, communities, and countries will realize the significant socio-economic benefits that can be unlocked through access to the Internet.

The global gender gap is not just a debilitating problem, but also a massive opportunity. The arguments for closing the gap are not only morally motivated, but also economically incentivizing. Advancing female’s equality could add trillions to global growth and technology, in all its shapes or forms, can provide us with the much-needed tools to tackle this global challenge.


The article was first published in print in SCIplanetSpring 2019 issue.

Cover image by Freepik

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