Celebrating Girls in ICT Day: The Road to Gender Diversity

23 April 2020
Blog by: Ms. Rania Nashar and Mr. Nasser S. Al-Nasser

Today marks International Girls in ICT Day, a global awareness day drawing attention to the critical need for more girls and women in the growing field of information and communication technologies (ICT). ICT is one of the most promising sectors for the future of employment, historically creating 120,000 new jobs yearly according to the European Parliament. It has, however, traditionally been a sector where women are globally underrepresented and underpaid. Just 3% of students joining ICT courses across the globe are women.

It would be to the benefit of ICT businesses and our global economy alike to encourage and empower more women to join the ICT sector, and quickly. Global businesses and media platforms have heightened awareness of the fact that there is a strong correlation between female employment rates and GDP growth. There have been many studies published on the topic and even in their report Women in Business and Management: The business case for change, the International Labour Organization points out that gender diversity initiatives in the workplace can impact profit increases by up to 20 percentage points.

Furthermore, as the world grapples with COVID-19, it has become even more clear that digitalization and ICT will become a mainstay of modern work and life, pushing government and industry to bridge the digital divide and encourage women globally to take up studies in the field and take part in the ICT job market.

But when the world begins to recover from COVID-19, how do we ensure inclusive progress remains at the forefront of our minds? As we see it, there are three barriers for creating opportunities for women to enter the workforce and paving the path for them to achieve leadership positions across ICT and other job markets: Culture, Upskilling and Collaboration.

The evolution of workplace culture needs to change rapidly and, often, it is leadership that fails to see what’s going on its own watch. According to recent research from Accenture, a large perception gap exists between what business leaders think is happening, and the reality for employees on the ground. Over the past three years, data continues to show employees believe their leaders are only half-committed to building a more inclusive culture, with 56% of employers, in average, championing change.

Furthermore, statistics suggest the ambition to advance female representation in leadership roles continues to make slow progress, both within ICT and beyond. It is therefore the role of leaders to foster an enabling environment, ensure measurement of targets are done openly and guarantee robust action in implementing forward thinking policies that attract and retain an inclusive workforce. For example, at stc, we launched our own board specifically to empower women and reinforce female participation in the business. Tackling the perception gap alone is predicted to significantly drive revenue; global profits would be higher by 33%.

The second barrier for change is the lack of training, mentorship and preparation of women for the future of work. It is therefore no surprise that the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 points to a major underrepresentation of women in classic STEM fields, with less than 20% of roles in cloud, engineering, data and Artificial Intelligence occupied by women. The jobs of the future will be driven by technology and innovation. In fact, 65% of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist.

Governments must therefore prioritize building the pipeline of young and talented girls for the workforce of the future, which sadly remains a major issue in most countries – particularly in the developing world. This will be a key focus for the B20 Saudi Arabia as promoting STEM education is compulsory in breaking gender stereotypes to ensure we set future female leaders up for success in business. In Saudi Arabia, where investments have been to bring more women into the workplace, over 60% of STEM graduates are female.

The last impediment for faster progress in gender equality in the workplace is the lack of strong partnership. We must strive to drive action through deep collaboration across governments, the greater business community and civil society organizations. One example of how this is being implemented is through guidance issued by UN Global Compact and UN Women, informed by international labor and human rights standards, that lays out how businesses can promote gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. Partnership with leaders across both public and private sectors can – and should – ensure we continue to unlock the full potential of women in the workplace, and in particular in the ICT sector, from social reforms to legislative proposals.

An environment free from equal pay issues, gender pay gaps and harassment is the well-publicized end goal, but we need to be faster as studies continue to show women earn a staggering 63% less than men do and less than a third of female students choose to study higher education courses in subjects like math and engineering. Leveling the playing field between men and women is good for business and the STEM industry and incredibly beneficial for global economies. We should not only say that, but consistently act on that.

Ms. Rania Nashar, Chair of the B20 Saudi Arabia Women in Business Action Council and CEO of Samba Financial Group and Mr. Nasser S. Al-Nasser, Chair of the B20 Saudi Arabia Digitalization Taskforce and Group CEO of stc. Herself a Computer Science graduate, Rania is the first female chief executive of a listed Saudi commercial bank.

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