Sat, Sep 08, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The role of women at work as the digital revolution rolls on

By Anu Madgavkar and Sandrine Devillard

Digital technologies are a double-edged sword for women. Men’s greater access to these technologies puts women at risk of being left even further behind economically and socially.

However, if women can tap the full power of digital technologies, vital new opportunities will open up for them.

According to estimates by the GSM Association, women’s access to the Internet and mobile phones is about 85 percent of the level for men, on average, while 1.7 billion women in low and middle-income countries are unconnected. This severely limits the prospects of women and girls.

Digital technologies enhance women’s access to finance, with mobile banking enabling them to avoid long journeys to a branch or ATM. Likewise, technology-enabled healthcare delivered via phone or tablet improves health outcomes, as it reaches women even in the remotest areas, sparing them a long and often risky trek to see a doctor.

The timesaving potential of digital technologies is so great that they might make the difference in enabling women to seek paid employment. Today, women undertake three-quarters of all unpaid care work, producing output of about US$10 trillion, or 13 percent of global GDP — none of which is translated into income, let alone economic power.

By their nature, e-commerce and technology-based businesses offer women more flexibility and autonomy, helping them to manage home responsibilities alongside paid work. In Indonesia, women-owned businesses generate 35 percent of e-commerce revenue, compared with only 15 percent of the revenue of offline businesses.

Likewise, in China, 55 percent of new Internet businesses are founded by women, and Alibaba’s Taobao e-commerce platform has an equal number of male and female store owners. In fact, China is home to 114 of the world’s 147 self-made female billionaires, compared with just 14 in the second-placed country, the US.

Women’s economic empowerment is good not just for the women who benefit. The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that advancing gender equality could add US$12 trillion per year to the world economy by 2025. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, getting more women into full-time employment in higher-paid, higher-productivity sectors could add US$4.5 trillion per year to GDP, 12 percent above the current trajectory.

At the company level, a growing body of evidence shows that more gender equality is good for bottom lines. Greater diversity of leadership styles improves the quality of decisionmaking. If given the opportunity, women could be leading innovators in the age of automation and artificial intelligence, and could help to ensure that algorithms are free of gender bias.

However, major barriers prevent women from seizing these opportunities. For example, in India, where only 29 percent of all Internet users are female, girls in rural areas often face gender-based restrictions on their use of information and communications technologies. One village in Uttar Pradesh implemented a fine for any girl using a mobile phone outside the home.

Beyond the social attitudes that undermine women’s access to digital technologies, women and girls often disproportionately lack the requisite skills to seize the opportunities of the digital age. In Singapore, for example, women lag behind men in education in science, math, engineering and technology.

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