Closing the Gender Digital Divide
IEEE working group encourages more collaboration, information sharing, and collective action
25 October 2018
As part of its mission to help connect more than half of the global population that remains unconnected to the internet, the IEEE Internet Initiative established seven Internet Inclusion Working Groups over the past two years. Participants focus on prioritized challenges and barriers to help connect the unconnected. Groups meet periodically to discuss their progress and next steps toward outputs that can be adopted and used in various regions of the world across their focus areas.
One working group has looked specifically at gender digital divide on a global level to help determine what’s required to close the gap. In this interview IEEE Internet Inclusion Gender Digital Divide Working Group Chairs Peter Micek and Ursula Wynhoven provide insights.
Question: Please share an overview of the gender digital divide on a global level and what’s required to close the gap.
Micek and Wynhoven: Here are some facts and figures that outline the situation. In terms of access to the internet, the proportion of men using it is higher than the proportion of women doing so in two-thirds of countries worldwide. The proportion of women using the internet is also 12 percent lower than the proportion of men using the internet worldwide. While the gender digital gap has narrowed in most regions since 2013, it has widened in Africa. In the least developed countries, only one out of seven women is using the internet compared with one out of five men.[i] Women in low- and middle-income countries are also, on average, 10 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, which translates to 184 million fewer women owning mobile phones.[ii] Overall, ITU estimates that 200 million less women worldwide own a mobile phone than men.
In terms of the gender gap in digital skills, in many countries, the percentage of women graduates in computer science has fallen since 2000 or remains at a low level despite a modest increase.[iii] In OECD countries, only one in five computer scientist graduates are female.[iv]
In terms of the workplace and leadership in tech, female computer programmers get paid on average 28.3 percent less than their male counterparts.[v] A study has also shown that the gender of a programmer affects how the code they write is assessed.[vi] There is also much less investment in women in tech and their businesses. In Silicon Valley, for example, only two percent of VC tech funding goes to start-ups with female founders—and a mere seven percent of VC venture capital partners are women. Females are also very underrepresented among leadership of tech companies. For example, worldwide, women are 20 percent less likely to hold a senior leadership position in the mobile communication industry.
Given the rapid pace of technological change, which may worsen rather than address existing inequalities, and the urgent need for more diversity and inclusion in tech to help better identify risks and opportunities and be continually innovative, statistics like these are a call to action. For the internet and information and communication technology (ICT) to reach their full potential in contributing to the achievement of the U.N.’s sustainable-development goals, and the exercise of human rights, it is essential that women and girls also reach their full potential and have equal access, skills and leadership opportunities in tech. One of the earlier projects of the working group was to identify a list of practices relevant to access, skills and leadership in tech that the group thought could help move the needle on the gender digital divide. To close the gender digital divide, one thing is especially clear: we need more collaboration, information sharing, and collective action.
Question: Tell us about the IEEE Internet Inclusion Gender Digital Divide Working Group’s focus and what inspired its goals.
Micek and Wynhoven: The IEEE is a partner of EQUALS: the global partnership for gender equality in the digital age. Mirroring this organization, the working group decided to take as inspiration for its overarching objective: To make a contribution towards the closure of the gender digital divide (defined to encompass ICT access, skills, leadership, and research). Mindful of the value of structured opportunities to share and learn together about initiatives that the working group members are achieving within their own organizations and other networks, a key objective of the working group is to provide opportunities for information exchange and shared learning in support of bridging the gender digital divide.
Updating each other on relevant developments and contacts formed through the group have helped to make useful connections for group members, providing information and speaker suggestions that assist group members with their own ongoing work.
There are lots of terrific efforts going on around the world to help bring more women and girls to tech and more tech to women and girls. The EQUALS action map seeks to note them and their initiatives. We encourage individuals and organizations to submit information about others. The 60 organizations that are partners of EQUALS, with five founding partners: GSMA, ITC, ITU, U.N. Women and UNU. The EQUALS research group is currently working on a report that will give a good overview of the research and resources available. There is not a shortage of research outlining the problem and recommending solutions. However, the will and resources to implement them have been harder to come by, including because of social and cultural barriers and lack of attention to these issues.
Question: Addressing social, economic and cultural issues in gender and tech projects was emphasized in a report of the IEEE Internet Inclusion Gender Digital Divide Working Group’s April meeting. Can you elaborate on why these three areas are important?
Micek and Wynhoven: At our most recent meeting a workshop led by Revi Sterling of USAID’s WomenConnect Challenge, addressed the role that these issues play in technology initiatives to expand access to the internet and ICT more generally. The point was that there are more than technical reasons why half the world is not yet connected and why women and girls are overrepresented among those who are not connected and that lack access to devices and skills.
Among other things, in some areas, there are negative stereotypes about women and girls and technology, and specific concerns around digital security, abuse, and harassment,[vii] that can even make it more difficult—sometimes even dangerous—for women and girls to have increased access without first or simultaneously taking action to help overcome these barriers. More holistic approaches that take into account local power dynamics and may involve helping to secure the support of men and boys in the relevant community may be needed for successful initiatives that will make a sustained difference for women and girls.
Question: How can individual IEEE members be more inclusive in their daily interactions in their workplaces—as a complement to the role of their organizations in enhancing inclusion.
Micek and Wynhoven: Cultures of organizations are made not only by the tone of their leadership and the policies and practices that the organization have in place and uphold, but also by the individual actions of the staff in the organization.
A draft in progress addresses the “25 ways to be a more inclusive engineer” and seeks to identify a wide range of actions that individuals can take as a complement to these other very important ingredients to an organization’s culture to help proactively shape more inclusive work environments for all genders and people. Our theory is that the cumulative effect of these individual actions play an important role in shaping workplace cultures and in how welcome and supported individuals feel in specific work environments.
The idea was to point to practical things that individuals could do differently to help make conscious what is often unconscious and to encourage more reflective inclusive behavior. This is not to let organizations off the hook of course for their vital role, but to underscore the complementary role of individuals within a workplace both in terms of their responsibility and opportunity to help effect change. We were inspired in this project by the IEEE’s large membership of individuals and, thus, the potential for systemic change if even a fraction of the membership thought more about these kinds of issues and their own role and behavior. Moreover, an IEEE survey on women in technology showed that many female IEEE members have experienced the opposite of the kinds of inclusive behaviors that are outlined in the 25 ways document.
Question: What might a how-to guide for the inclusive engineer include?
Micek and Wynhoven: The 25 ways address issues ranging from meeting dynamics and performance reviews to technology products and processes themselves with specific suggestions of what individuals can do differently.
Question: What other organizations share a common mission to eliminate the gender digital divide and what research and resources are available?
Micek and Wynhoven: There are lots of terrific efforts going on around the world to help bring more women and girls to tech and more tech to women and girls. The EQUALS action map seeks to note them and their initiatives. We encourage individuals and organizations to submit information about others they are aware at: www.equals.org/actionmap. The 60 organizations that are partners of EQUALS can be seen here: https://www.equals.org/partners. The five founding partners of EQUALS are (in alphabetical order): GSMA, ITC, ITU, U.N. Women and UNU.
The EQUALS research group is currently working on a report that will give a good overview of the research and resources available. There is not a shortage of research outlining the problem and recommending solutions. However, the will and resources to implement them have been harder to come by, including because of social and cultural barriers and lack of attention to these issues.
Question: How can interested IEEE members get involved in the Internet Inclusion Gender Digital Divide Working Group?
Micek and Wynhoven: Interested persons are warmly welcome to contact us through this link.
Peter Micek leads the Access Now policy team’s business and human rights work, advocating for a more rights-respecting telecom and tech sector. He also teaches a course at Columbia University on internet policy and governance. A lawyer by training, Peter completed a JD cum laude at the University of San Francisco School of Law, and in 2010 published “A Genealogy of Home Visits,” critiquing surveillance of at-risk communities. As a law student, Peter defended independent journalists and engaged in Freedom of Information litigation at First Amendment Project. For five years, in his native San Francisco, Peter led youth and ethnic media development at New America Media, and was Web Editor at KALW’s daily radio program Your Call.
Ursula Wynhoven is the General Counsel as well as the Chief of the Governance and Social Sustainability for the United Nations Global Compact, the UN’s corporate sustainability initiative. She is a member of the office’s Executive Team. In addition to managing legal affairs and governance matters, she founded and is overall responsible for the office’s work programmes on the various dimensions of social sustainability, including human rights and labour principles, women’s empowerment, business and children, indigenous peoples' rights, and human trafficking, and on business and the rule of law. She joined the UN Global Compact in 2002. She worked in private legal practice and government human rights agencies in both Australia and the US before joining the UN. She has also worked for the Secretariat of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the OECD’s corporate responsibility initiative.
Among other academic qualifications, she has two Master’s of Law degrees - from Columbia Law School, where she was also a Human Rights Fellow, and from Monash University Law School in Australia. She has been an Adjunct Professor in Corporate Sustainability, Transnational Business and Human Rights at Fordham Law School in New York since 2007. She is admitted to practice law in jurisdictions in Australia, United States (California), and England and Wales. Ms Wynhoven is also a Trustee of the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law.
[i] See ITU Facts and Figures 2017: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2017.pdf
[ii] GSMA (2018): The Mobile Gender Gap Report, https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/connected-women/the-mobile-gender-gap-report-2018/
[iii] Between 2000 and 2012, the share of women graduates in computer science has dropped by between 2 and 13 percentage points since 2000. Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030, see the chapter entitled: Is the gender gap narrowing in science and engineering?
[iv] OECD (2017) Where are tomorrow’s female scientists?: http://www.oecd.org/gender/data/wherearetomorrowsfemalescientists.htm
[v] Fortune, March 13, 2017, ‘Venture Capital’s Funding Gap is Actually Getting Worse’ by Valentina Zarya.
[vi] Josh Terrell, Andrew Kofink, Justin Middleton, Clarissa Rainear, Emerson Murphy-Hill, Chris Parnin, Jon Stallings, “Gender differences and bias in open source: pull request acceptance of women versus men” May 1, 2007: https://peerj.com/articles/cs-111/
[vii] Micek, Peter and Nolasco, Denis. Access Now, “The gender of surveillance: how the world can work together for a safer internet.” March 2018, available at https://www.accessnow.org/gender-surveillance-world-can-work-together-safer-internet>.