If you’ve opened a newspaper or a web browser lately, you will have likely seen reports of the demise of work as we know it.
“Robots could take away two-thirds of jobs in developing countries”, proclaimed Forbes magazine last year. “The long-term jobs killer is not China. It’s automation,” read a New York Times headline.
Join the global movment for girls' rights Dig into these articles and you find predictions that automation of jobs through advances in artificial intelligence – part of the fourth industrial revolution* – presents a threat to many sectors of work.
Overall, the World Bank estimates that new technology could displace between one and two-thirds of workers* worldwide. And the most vulnerable workers will be the hardest-hit. Men stand to gain 1 job for every 3 lost to technological advances, while the figure for women is only 1 in 5.
As with previous industrial revolutions, new jobs will emerge to replace those that disappear. To thrive in these workplaces of the future, sophisticated information and communication technology (ICT) skills will be a necessity.
Gender digital divide
This presents a real problem for girls as they currently lag behind boys in digital fluency in almost every country*. Girls are also less likely to have access to mobile phones and the internet, limiting their ability to benefit from digital innovations such as mobile money and online learning.
the gender digital divide is entirely man-made.
This digital gender divide is reflected in the workplace where there is a “startling absence of women in most ICT job categories”*. When women do work in the sector, it is more likely to be in administrative and clerical positions rather than higher-paid managerial or technical roles.
The factors behind the gender digital divide are complex and vary between countries, however they are often linked to the misconception that girls are less suited to technology – and ICT careers – than boys.
These expectations produce a generational ripple effect, as an absence of female role models discourages girls from pursuing studies in ICT.
Girls need opportunities
So how can we reverse this trend? A crucial first step would be for governments to include ICT education in their national curriculums and actively support girls’ participation.
Civil society and the private sector should also play their part by tackling the barriers that are preventing girls from accessing digital skills education, including stereotypes and traditions, lack of role models, safety concerns and cost.
At Plan International, we are embracing the potential of cross-sector partnerships to close the gender digital divide.
In Pakistan, we have partnered with Telenor Pakistan to establish ICT labs in 44 schools. Salma, a student at one of the schools said that before the project “computing was only being taught as an optional subject”, but she has now been able to take classes in computing, digital learning and online safety.
In India, we have established a network of digital learning centres for young women in Delhi alongside Ericsson. Since launching in 2015, the centres have used technology to provide classes and career advice to over 8,000 girls, helping them negotiate barriers that previously stood in their way.
And in Northeast Brazil, we have partnered with Accenture to connect girls with career opportunities in the ICT sector through the Youth Building the Future project.
Girls and women embrace technology
Give girls an opportunity to develop digital skills and they will flourish. A study of 25 countries* across Latin American and Africa found that girls and women embrace digital tools quicker than men when given the chance. This shows that the gender digital divide is entirely man-made.
Yet without active efforts by governments, civil society and the private sector to support girls’ participation in ICT, there is a strong likelihood that the digital economies of the future will replicate existing gender disparities.
For this reason, it’s great to see bodies such as the G20, the African Union and the World Economic Forum place the digital skills gap on their agenda. But if girls are to truly thrive in the digital workplaces that emerge from the fourth industrial revolution, even more stakeholders will need to come on board.
The gender gap in digital skills is a global problem, but it’s one that girls themselves can fix. We just need to give them the opportunities to thrive in the digital world.
*Plan International is not responsible for content on external websites