Is technology missing an X chromosome?

By

Jay Nibbe

EY Global Vice Chair – Markets

Innovative and forward-thinking go-to-market leader helping EY clients worldwide achieve their goals. Technology enthusiast and part-time wine producer.

5 minute read 26 Apr 2018

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The gender gap is getting wider, and it remains a chasm in the STEM disciplines. Here’s how we can start to shrink that gap.

The latest World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report has found that it will take an unacceptable 217 years to achieve economic parity between women and men. This should serve as a wake-up call for leaders in business and government that we need to step up our efforts to combat gender inequality in all its forms, and across every industry – none more so than in the industries that are heavily reliant on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) talent. And at the current pace of digital disruption and transformation, that will soon be every industry.  

Rather that democratize our global economy as hoped, it’s possible that the ever more rapid proliferation of digital platforms and the digitization of economies could actually exacerbate gender disparity in the workplace. Right now, there just aren’t enough women working in the STEM disciplines. Of those women that do work in STEM, relatively few are in leadership positions, and on average they earn less than their male counterparts. Consider these concerning stats:

  • Globally women accounted for less than a third (28.8%) of those employed in scientific research and development (R&D) across the world in 2014
  • Globally, women made up just 12.2% of boards in the information technology industry in 2015.
  • In the United States, women in computer, engineering, and science occupations were paid an estimated 79.2% of men’s annual median earnings in 2016

Without a significant voice in STEM, women could be excluded from the opportunity to shape our working world for the better. And that’s not just a problem for women; it’s long been established that companies and countries alike are more prosperous when women are included and empowered to succeed. Closing the gender gap is not just a moral imperative – it’s also an economic one.

To that end, here’s what business and governments should do right now to encourage more women to become architects of an inclusive digital future.

1. Create public-private partnerships to support the talent pipeline

We should work to create innovative public-private partnerships that empower women to participate and thrive in the global economy.

The good news is that business and government have demonstrated that we can partner together to fight the biases that hold back millions of women and girls from an early age. At EY, for instance, we are proud to support EQUALS: The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, an international effort led by the International Telecommunication Union, UN Women, and the GSM Association.

Since it was launched in September 2016, EQUALS has worked to bridge the gender digital divide by focusing on three main areas. First, they ensure that women and girls have access to digital technologies. Next, they empower those women with the digital and STEM skills they need to use those tools and succeed in today’s economy. Third, and crucially, they work to promote women as leaders and decision makers in the technology sector. By bringing together private enterprises, governments, and NGOs from around the world, EQUALS proves that cross-sector collaboration can help close the gender gap – and we should all look for more opportunities like it to get involved.

In addition to EQUALS, our people at EY are constantly seeking out ways to boost digital inclusion and bring a greater diversity of talent into the STEM industry.  One such initiative is STEM Advantage, a collaboration with California State University. STEM Advantage is a not-for-profit program that prepares and inspires young women and underserved minorities of all genders to pursue STEM careers through paid internships, mentorships and scholarships. Watch the video below to discover more about the STEM Advantage program and what inspired EY’s Lee Ann Kline to found it.

2. Recruit promising talent, then teach it tech

Business can do much to support the longer-term talent pipeline in education, but it should also act to bridge the STEM gender divide in the here and now. As disruption accelerates, innovation today is the highest priority for most businesses. It’s diversity of experience, perspective and thought processes in your innovation team that’s often the catalyst for developing disruptive new products and services.

So why wait on the STEM talent output from educational institutions when that diversity can be kick-started within the business itself? Etsy’s founders began investing in young talented women not trained in programming, and sent them on three-month scholarships to the Hacker School. Within a year, Etsy increased the number of women on its engineering team by five-fold.

3. Encourage new ways to work  

We need to encourage new ways of working and forging connections that empower women in the global workforce. The rise of the digital platform economy, in particular, represents a major opportunity for women who are looking for more flexibility. Many STEM projects or careers are now location agnostic. If you have a digital connection you can work, and network too. The next project or rung on the career ladder can now be reached through adept use of social media networks, rather than through membership of an old boys club.

And for women who live in countries where social barriers make it harder for women to participate in the traditional economy, the opportunity is revolutionary. The digital revolution is a chance to unlock the economic potential of millions of women around the world. Unfortunately, the OECD recently reported that “most of the participants in the online platform economy are men.”

Given that the world of work is changing and we’re shifting to more entrepreneurial, self-reliant, portfolio careers, we need to create more and better opportunities for women to participate in the new “platform economy.” Our own new recruiting platform, GigNow, will give freelancers a chance to join our team on a project basis that allows them to work flexibly in a way that suits their lives.

It’s also important to help skilled women re-enter the workforce after breaks to raise children or support their family. That’s why we’ve introduced initiatives like EY Reconnect in the UK, which provides a 12-week program to ease skilled women and men back into business after taking anywhere from two to 10 years off.

Speeding up the path to parity

While the expansion of the gender gap is likely to generate negative headlines, the good news is that we know progress is possible. We’ve seen it in STEM over the past decade. For example, in 2016, women made up more than a third (40.1%) of scientists and engineers in the EU-28, an increase of more than 20% since 2007.

And more broadly across the global economy, there are more encouraging signs on gender parity. The 2017 Women Leaders Index shows a rise in women’s leadership among G20 nations, with women now accounting for more than 40% of public-sector leaders in Canada, Australia, South Africa and the UK. In Australia, the proportion of women board members on the ASX 200 has increased from barely 8% in 2009 to more than 25% today. Meanwhile, EY is on its own journey to eliminate the gender gap: for the second consecutive year nearly 30% of our new partner class were women and we are continuing to build our pipeline of female talent.

We should all celebrate this progress – but the WEF report is a stark reminder that this is just the beginning. We still have a long way to go to make gender parity a reality.

A big step towards that goal can be taken by concentrating our efforts getting women into leadership and into STEM disciplines. Given the rate and extent of change being driven by digital innovation, greater diversity of talent in STEM industries and roles is more critical than ever before. To create a shared future in a currently fractured world, take action now.

Summary

Organizations need to collaborate, manage recruitment and encourage new ways of working to help close the gender gap.

About this article

By

Jay Nibbe

EY Global Vice Chair – Markets

Innovative and forward-thinking go-to-market leader helping EY clients worldwide achieve their goals. Technology enthusiast and part-time wine producer.