This year marks 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted: the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights. In the past 25 years, huge strides have been made and women have more opportunities and access to technology than ever before. Despite this progress, there is still much work to do as women remain vastly underrepresented in the tech industry despite the rapid global growth of the digital sector. Recent figures show, while women now make up around 50 percent of the global workforce, they hold fewer than 1 in 10 senior technology jobs.
Closing the digital leadership gender gap
Within ICT and STEM occupations, women are nearly absent from software development, engineering and technology research, and university teaching. There is a high rate of women leaving science and technology jobs. Whether due to the lack of the work-life balance frequently found in male-dominated fields or due to a range of gendered obstacles to achieving their career goals. Few women are found at any level of technology leadership, those that are tend to serve in subordinate roles with little chance for advancement. Women are also less likely to become ICT entrepreneurs; they generally lack training in business startups and have very little access to venture capital. Most seriously, they have a very low rate of representation in science and technology policymaking and AI innovations.
There are a wide range of barriers preventing women from achieving equal representation at the leadership level including gender-based discrimination, lower uptake of STEM subjects and a lack of investment for female entrepreneurs. The public and private sectors must work together to ensure women are getting the skills, exposure and opportunities to allow them to enter and excel in ICT industries.
Mobile operators taking action
Today, women are still seriously under-represented and under-funded in the technology ecosystem worldwide. The ‘pipeline’ of female founders and senior management remains low. Though women-founded start-ups deliver twice as much per dollar invested as those founded by men worldwide, only 2 percent of VC tech funding goes to start-ups with female founders. A mere 7 percent of venture capital partners are women. In addition, qualified women are quitting the tech sector at twice the rate of men.
Mobile operators realise the economic and social benefits increasing female leadership and representation in ICT industries can deliver. Operators and their partners are taking action globally to level the playing field.
Vodafone has launched the #ChangeTheFace initiative a new industry-wide initiative calling on technology leaders and individuals to pledge to increase diversity and equality in the technology sector.
Industry-wide initiatives are an essential tool to bridge the gender gap but companies must also make sure they are promoting equality within their workforce. AT&T has been named to the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index for the third year in a row in recognition of its commitment to gender equality.
Partnering to close the gap
In addition to these initiatives, global cooperation is key to bridging the gender gap. The GSMA is leading the mobile industry’s efforts to close the gender gap through partnerships in global organisations such as EQUALS. This global partnership for gender equality in the digital age comprises a committed group of corporate leaders, governments, academic institutions, NGOs and community groups from around the world dedicated to promoting gender balance in the technology sector.
As part of this commitment, the GSMA has also adopted the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs). The seven Women’s Empowerment Principles, subtitled Equality Means Business, act as guideposts for actions which advance and empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. To date 30 mobile operators have joined the GSMA in committing to the WEPs and fostering business practices that empower women.
These initiatives are great examples of how mobile operators and partnerships can contribute to increasing female leadership but we are still a long way from true gender equality.