Rachel Barton: Digital disruption can close gender gap

Fewer girls choose to study STEM subjects than boys. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Fewer girls choose to study STEM subjects than boys. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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As technology increasingly shapes our lives, will more women consider careers in the sector, asks Rachel Barton

We have heard it so often, we’ve almost forgotten how true it is. Digital has changed everything.

It’s transformed every visible aspect of our lives and increasingly impacts those transactions we don’t see – the dialogues between machines and systems; the data organisations gather about us, and how they use it; the end to end processes behind our every interaction.

And then it surprises us. It reveals a capacity to engender societal change that we hadn’t predicted.

Accenture has completed research that reveals digital is playing a critical role in enabling, and empowering, women in the workplace.

By harnessing the power of digital technology, our research suggests that advanced economies such as the UK will be able to close the gender gap in 25, rather than 50, years.

When it comes to business, we are continually reminded of the importance of fielding our best team in the digital future – and that the best team is diverse, innovative and multi-talented.

The barriers that beset women in finding and succeeding in work can be rapidly and significantly reduced by harnessing the changes arising in the wake of the evolving digital economy.

More flexible working conditions, coupled with the ability of digital technology to help entrepreneurial new businesses, means that more and more women can both enter the workforce and manage their lives and careers more effectively.

In our research 63 per cent of women and 50 per cent of men are confident that digital has the power to level the playing field for women. Put simply, women will thrive as traditional ways of working are supplanted by those ushered in by the digital economy.

When you look more closely at the research and break down the respondents by gender, those at the pointy end of the debate are feeling the effect. Women believe more strongly than men that their lives, their careers, their homes are being transformed by the flexibility and access that digital creates.

67 per cent of women versus 58 per cent of the men questioned believed that “digital is enabling more flexible ways to work that will allow more women to enter, remain, or return to the workforce”.

The impact of this can only be accumulative as digital transforms the way education is accessed and the way women see their employment prospects. Perhaps more than that, if we accept that it is vital that we get more women and girls into STEM careers, then the ubiquity of technology must have an impact on how comfortable women feel in STEM careers.

As technology enables, empowers and even invades our lives – will women will feel careers in technology are less alien? Rather pertinently, one statistic stands out from our research: 70% of women and 60% of menbelieve a digital world will empower their daughters.

That alone may be the legacy many of us hold onto, as we navigate the disruption that digital presents – the Holy Grail, some might say, of the digital revolution – a generation of women and men whose working lives are transformed by the power of technology.

Rachel Barton is MD of advanced customer strategy at Accenture

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