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How we can bridge the digital divide and boost digital inclusion

How we can bridge the digital divide and boost digital inclusion

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The digital revolution has ushered in a transformative era: reshaping communication, education, and economic opportunities. However, a persisting gender gap in the digital space continues to hold back women and girls, limiting their access and participation in this critical aspect of modern life.

report by McKinsey said that advancing women’s equality in the countries such as the Asia Pacific region could add US$4.5 trillion to their collective annual GDP by 2025, a 12 per cent increase over the business-as-usual trajectory.

One of the key suggestions from the report to create parity was to ‘capture the economic and social benefits of improving women’s access to digital technology.’, This op-ed delves into the importance of bridging this digital divide, focusing on the pivotal role of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education to achieve digital inclusion.

The World Economic Forum report suggests that it will take a whopping 131 years to achieve gender parity globally- yes you read that right. However, according to the recent Accenture report, if governments and businesses can double the pace of women becoming frequent technology users, we could reach gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed countries. Then what’s stopping us?

The gender digital gap: A global challenge

The digital divide manifests in various forms. Women and girls often face greater obstacles to accessing technology, including smartphones, laptops, and internet connectivity. According to the IMF, this disparity stems from financial constraints, social norms, and inadequate infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. This lack of access restricts their ability to leverage information, online resources, and essential services, perpetuating existing inequalities.

Beyond access, a significant skill gaps still exists. Girls often lag behind boys in digital literacy, lacking basic computer skills such as navigating websites, utilising email, or understanding online security. This vulnerability hinders their participation in the digital economy, online marketplaces, and the growing number of remote work opportunities.

Consequences of the divide: A missed opportunity

The ramifications of the gender digital divide are far-reaching. It diminishes women's access to knowledge, education, and information crucial for economic empowerment and social participation. They are excluded from online entrepreneurship, remote work options, and e-commerce platforms, key players in today's digitalised work landscape. This lack of digital skills also fuels social exclusion as they are left behind in online communities and communication platforms.

When women are not included in the digital workforce, their skills and talents remain untapped, impacting innovation and productivity. This untapped potential translates to a loss for businesses, communities, and national economies.

The path forward: A collective action plan

Raising levels of digital inclusion could act as a powerful catalyst to get more women into the labour force and close the gender gap. It opens the door to opportunities to boost female economic empowerment, including greater access to markets, knowledge, and flexible working arrangements.

A shift towards digital financial services could also boost women's financial inclusion. Research from Accenture suggests that doubling the pace at which women become fluent users of digital technologies could dramatically shorten the timeline to gender equality. This could also enable 97 million more women worldwide—77 million of whom live in lower-income countries—to secure paid work and reduce the gender pay gap by 21% worldwide.

Bridging the gender digital divide necessitates a collaborative effort involving various stakeholders:

  • Government intervention: Governments can prioritise initiatives that ensure equitable access to technology and infrastructure, particularly in underprivileged communities. Additionally, funding specific STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs for girls are crucial for creating a pipeline of female talent.
  • Educational institutions: Developing a curriculum that fosters girls' interest in STEM and addresses their learning styles can create a more inclusive learning environment. Additionally, promoting female STEM educators and mentors sets inspiring examples for future generations.
  • Private sector engagement: Collaboration with the private sector is critical.
  • Technology companies can offer targeted training programs, support coding boot camps for girls, and promote inclusive internship and employment opportunities within their organisations.

Bridging the gap: Towards gender parity and digital inclusion 

The impact of digital technology on the world is so significant that it is now referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These technologies can promote inclusion, efficiency and innovation —but only for those who can use them. Boosting digital inclusion—which encompasses good, affordable internet access, the necessary hardware and software, and digital literacy and support—is key to narrowing this ‘digital divide’.

This is possibly the most appropriate time for more women to be in this industry, as we are all undergoing a sudden and unexpected transformation driven by digital technologies. Accenture studies have shown that higher digital fluency increases gender equality, benefiting society and the economy.

Investing in STEM education for women and girls is an investment in the future. It unlocks their full potential to contribute meaningfully to the digital age by empowering them with knowledge, skills, and leadership qualities.

Fueled by the right skills and opportunities women can develop cutting-edge technologies, tackle critical global challenges, and drive innovation across multiple sectors. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I urge all leaders to take steps to boost digital inclusion to support women's social and economic empowerment.

This article was written by Megan Reichelt, SEA country head at Integral Ad Science.

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