Accelerating digital fluency is key to gender equality in the workplace

I look forward to the day when there is no longer a gender gap in the workplace – when conversations around women’s representation at work, opportunities for career and educational advancement, and gender pay parity are no longer discussed in the dismal context of today’s issues. And when the fierce commitment and efforts of people, businesses and governments to make inclusion and diversity a reality for all is realised. I hope that day comes in my lifetime. I believe it can.

This year’s International Women’s Day will focus on accelerating gender parity. Why? Because research suggests that gender equality in the workplace won’t be reached for another 100 years. I, like my employer, can’t wait that long.

Accenture is playing a leading role in helping some of the UK’s biggest companies transform into digital businesses. And we wanted to understand if digital could have a similar impact on accelerating greater equality for women in the workplace.

>See also: Women in IT Awards

Our research found empirical proof that digital can be a powerful lever with the potential to close the gender gap in the workplace sooner than you may think.

To identify how digital can positively impact gender equality in the workplace, Accenture surveyed 4,900 women and men in 31 countries to determine their familiarity and use of digital technologies.

Secondary data from the World Bank, the OECD, World Economic Forum and the United Nations was added to provide a measurement of each country’s ‘digital fluency’ – the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective.

We found that being digitally fluent can help women advance throughout all stages of their career lifecycle, giving them an edge in preparing for work, finding work and advancing at work.

The UK ranked fifth in comparison to the 31 countries surveyed when it came to its ‘digital fluency score’ – the extent to which women are using digital to advance in education, employment and career opportunities.

The UK followed the US, the Netherlands, Australia and the Nordics. The results show that we can be more optimistic about closing the UK’s gender gap sooner if we can increase the UK’s score. There is, of course, still more to be done.

The research found that if governments and businesses double the pace at which women become digitally fluent, gender equality could be achieved in 25 years in developed nations (versus 50 years at the current pace), and 45 years in developing nations (versus 85 years at the current pace).

Digital and gender

Men and women in the UK are positive about the role digital can play in accelerating gender equality. 64% of women and 59% of men agree that women will thrive as traditional ways of working are replaced with a wider variety of working arrangements that are enabled by digital.

59% of women and 57% of men also agree that digital is reshaping the working day and allowing women to balance family life and work, where they may have had to sacrifice one of the two in the past.

More than one-third of all survey respondents – men and women combined – agree that digital enables them to work from home; 33% said it provides a better balance between their personal and professional lives; and 37% report digital has increased access to job opportunities.

Along with this positivity, the impact of digital has not yet closed the gender gap among executives, or extended to pay equality. Men are still by far the dominant earners by household across all generations.

This will change as more millennial women and digital natives move into management. And there is appetite to do so. The report found that nearly half (45%) of millennial women in the UK aspire to be in leadership positions, which is positive to see.

While the UK has the third highest score overall for women’s leadership and advancement in the workplace, the gender gap between men and women in this area is very large – the fourth largest gender gap across all countries in the research.

Digital fluency is removing many of the traditional barriers that prevent women from working – enabling them greater flexibility to work from home, become entrepreneurs and have more control over working hours.

By increasing digital fluency, women – currently an under-represented source of talent – will play a growing role in the workforce of the future. To nurture women’s digital skills, businesses and government should look to create training, mentoring and on-the-job learning for women.

They should encourage young girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths to increase their digital fluency and improve their paths to employment, and foster collaborative working cultures to increase digital fluency – enabling women to grow their networks and experience using new tools.

The potential pay-off is clear: women are poised to use their digital skills in promising careers that provide employers with the skilled workers they need, while also helping to level the playing field which is long overdue.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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