Is Digital Fluency the Key to Equality for Women in the Workplace?

Is Digital Fluency the Key to Equality for Women in the Workplace?

Mike Roberts

Equality in the workplace has been a primary topic of conversation for ages. And year after year, researchers have been trying to understand why that is and how to fix it. Discrimination, of course, has attributed to pay gaps and the potential for promotions, but earlier this year we saw a study that showed the gender pay gap is about much more than that.

Glassdoor determined inequality is also a result of the systemic sorting of men and women into different roles. Men still tend to pursue jobs with traditionally higher salaries than those favored by women. What’s more, social pressure still diverts men and women down different paths, and this may be perpetuating the gender pay gap more than we realize.

However, a new study from Accenture, Getting To Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work, sheds some light on a different variable in the gender equality conversation—digital fluency, which is described as “the extent to which both men and women have embraced digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective.”

Accenture argues digital fluency among women is correlated with greater equality.

Digital Fluency and Women in the Workplace

Accenture surveyed nearly 5,000 men and women across 31 countries, equally split across generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials) and small, medium, and large businesses.

They found that women’s ability to find and participate in work increases as their digital fluency increases. They also revealed that countries with higher rates of digital fluency among women have higher rates of gender equality in the workplace.

digital fluency and career advancement among women
Source: Accenture, Getting To Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work

It’s interesting to look at this data through the lens of each country. While the Netherlands has the most digitally fluent women, the U.S. scored higher in terms of women’s levels of education and employment, as well as their career advancements.

As stated in the report, “The United States has the highest overall score in our study, and the gender gap is one of the smallest among the countries we studied. The U.S. still has far to go to achieve genuine equality in the workplace. But with the help of digital fluency, American women have made significant progress in education, employment and especially advancement.”

women digital proficiency data
Source: Accenture, Getting To Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work

As you might expect, there seems to be a strong connection between women’s access to technology and their ambitions to learn about and use it, and educational attainment, employment levels, and career advancement.

It’s important to note, though, that access and ambition may not be enough in some countries. Cultural norms, discrimination, and other roadblocks to equality may influence some numbers at the lower end of the spectrum.

Accelerating the Journey to Equality

Based on past trends, research predicts we will see gender equality in the workplace by 2065 in developed countries and 2100 in developing countries. But, as Accenture’s study states: “If governments and businesses can double the pace at which women become digitally fluent, we could reach gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed countries and by 2060 in developing countries.”

gender pay gap and tech use
Source: Accenture, Getting To Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work

Across the board, women are moving in the right direction quite quickly. They’ve attained higher levels of education than men in 16 of 31 countries studied. 56% of millennial women and 49% of all working women aspire to be in leadership positions. And 61% of women in developing countries would like to start a business in the next five years, while 29% of women in developing countries would.

If digital fluency is the accelerant, then perhaps more focus should be put on the role of business and government, as the quote said. In the past few years, we have seen some companies making valiant, public efforts to increase workplace diversity and close the gender gap.

Employers like Google even go so far as to let you sift through their diversity figures, so you can see exactly what percentage of male vs. female are in which roles. Google also has an impressive internal education system, so workers can empower themselves with information and the know-how to advance their careers. But, of course, not every company has the ability to do such things.

We’ve also seen government, at least in the U.S., putting more focus on women in STEM careers—and digital fluency. From The White House’s website: “The Office of Science and Technology Policy, in collaboration with the White House Council on Women and Girls, is dedicated to increasing the participation of women and girls—as well as other underrepresented groups — in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by increasing the engagement of girls with STEM subjects in formal and informal environments, encouraging mentoring to support women throughout their academic and professional experiences, and supporting efforts to retain women in the STEM workforce.”

While it’s important for government to get involved in helping women get into STEM fields and careers, many women are also already deep into these areas—with exceptional digital fluency. This is why the topic of inclusion is becoming more pressing and important, especially as women work to move up the organizational hierarchy. But that’s a discussion for a different.

As digital fluency becomes second nature for the youth, it will be interesting to watch the impact on equality in the coming years. Based on the speed of technology, the acceleration of digital fluency may happen faster than we could ever imagine.

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