More needs to be done to bridge the digital gender divide

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UNICEF/Christopher Herwig
in Jordan, adolescent girls use cellphones and tablets in a solar kiosk providing internet connectivity in the Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees, near the Syrian border.

This article is brought to you in association with OECD.


Barriers to access, education and skills, as well as ingrained socio-cultural biases, are driving a digital gender divide that is holding back women’s participation in the digital economy, according to a new OECD report.

Bridging the Digital Gender Divide: Include, Upskill, Innovate says women are not currently empowered to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital transformation. While G20 economies have taken important actions to narrow gender gaps in general, more needs to be done to increase the participation of women and girls in the digital economy so that they too can contribute to and benefit from the digital transformation that is under way.

Based on analysis of datasets on skills, innovation as measured by patents, venture capital, start-ups and contributors to an open-source software package, the report says women have less access than men to key technologies and services. They also face discrimination, negative stereotypes or social and cultural biases. Women are also less likely to pursue, or have more limited access to educational opportunities in information technology, limiting their options for a career in ICT. The report calls for concrete actions including investments in broadband infrastructure, education and skills, and actions to tackle gender stereotypes and address social norms that lead to discrimination.

“Women are not benefitting from the digital transformation as much as they could be,” said OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa Gabriela Ramos, presenting the report at Chatham House in London. “The significant gender gap in the access, use, ownership and design of digital technologies is holding back women everywhere. Action to close the gap requires providing the right skills, encouraging women into entrepreneurship and innovation, STEM and software development, and providing the right conditions to enable women to participate fully in the labour market.”

The report, which will feed into the 2017 G20 Roadmap for Digitalisation, notes that:

  • The global gender divide in Internet usage (calculated by the ITU as the difference between Internet penetration rates for men and women relative to the rate for men) has risen from 11% in 2013 to 11.6% in 2017. The divide is over 25% in Africa and 33% in least-developed countries.
  • Women are on average 26% less likely than men to have a smartphone, and worldwide 327 million fewer women than men have smartphone access to mobile Internet.
  • Only 10% of innovative start-ups seeking venture capital investments were founded by women. Women-owned start-ups receive 23% less funding and are 30% less likely to be bought up or issue an IPO than male-owned businesses.
  • At age 15, only 0.5% of girls in OECD countries want to become ICT professionals, compared to 5% of boys. Twice as many boys as girls expect to become engineers, scientists or architects.
  • Despite the fact that more women than men completed tertiary education in 2015, only 24% of engineering graduates and 25% of ICT graduates were women.
  • Women-only teams accounted for just 6% of a popular open-source programming language for data analysis (R) packages over 2012-2017; 77% were male-only teams.
  • Women’s participation in inventive activities is increasing, but in G20 economies only 10% of patents are invented by women. At current rates women will only catch up men in 2080.

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