The gender digital divide is usually defined as the gender bias that is encoded within the digital economy. It could be differences between men and women in terms of accessibility to products and services, educational opportunities or the acquisition of digital skills. The most important keyword here is bias, which has less to do with actual differences between men and women and more with stereotypes that might not be true.
For example, women could be passed on for opportunities because they are wrongly perceived to be less adept at mathematical or programming skills in the technology sector. These beliefs and misconceptions interfere with what is considered the norm in the industry and prevent women from accessing or acquiring digital skills, services and opportunities, which further widen the gender digital divide.
We have been misled by these biases, and the resulting gender digital divide has significant impact on the wider economy. For example, a report by the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation showed that the digital commerce industry could grow by more than $280 billion between 2025 and 2030 if more women were empowered to participate in this dynamic industry.
It is, without a question, both a business and moral case for companies to pay attention to the gender digital divide and gender bias in the workplace. Studies have shown that companies with more women in senior positions performed considerably better than those with only men, as these companies have a greater diversity of perspectives that can be translated into increased creativity and innovation.
From a workforce perspective, empowering women with equal access to opportunities allows them to enrich their respective industries with their talents, which in turn leads to greater economic prosperity for all. Nonetheless, the reality is that women are still struggling with gender bias, especially in industries that are erroneously perceived to be more suited to men, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In fact, figures show that in Singapore, only slightly more than half of the female graduates in STEM-related majors go on to have STEM-related careers.
How do we stop this leaky talent pipeline and strive for a more inclusive digital ecosystem?
Companies play a key role in contributing resources and providing education and training opportunities for women to thrive in the digital economy. They should work hand in hand with governments and other organizations on initiatives to uplift women and ensure equal access to opportunities in the digital sphere. Additionally, I’ve always believed that a company’s products and services can only be truly inclusive when they are reflective of the company’s culture. When a company is committed to closing the gender divide and is truly inclusive, this will translate into actions in how they look at the way their products are designed, how they support their female employees internally and so forth.
Chi-Ying Cheng is an associate professor of psychology and the institutional review board chair at Singapore Management University. Her research examines the underlying psychological mechanisms and behavioral outcomes of dual identity integration with special focus on culture and gender. She is currently working on a study that examines the interaction and relationship between gender and professional identity, the results of which will be available in summer 2023.
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