Is gender bias limiting equality in the digital economy?

9th March 2022
Monica Feghali
Smart Places - Regional Lead

With the arrival of the Information Age, society and the way in which our economies operate was re-written. Through this rapid epochal shift from traditional industries established by the Industrial Revolution, concepts of the internet and information technology quickly came to be the cornerstones of the mid-20th century and are key to industry innovation to this very day.

But with the rise in digital uptake and economic prowess powered by computers, smart devices and a digitally interconnected world, divisions have become apparent. Demographical and regional digital divides have harboured progress for some economies, but have remained out of reach for many, with recent insights highlighting that the number of internet users worldwide represents just over half the global population at 4.9 billion. Moreover, in its 2020 Mobile Gender Gap Report, GSMA found that among low-to-mid income countries – where gender gap in mobile and internet access is the highest – women were still 20 percent less likely to use mobile internet compared to men.

With the rise of the digital economy, equal participation in the digital age remains fragile. Although women and men may have diverging online behaviors due to personal interests and professions, the differences should be dictated by these factors rather than socio-economic limits and intergenerational biases.

Despite this, positive shifts are happening. Across many industries, the democratization of technology, and the growing volume of women leaders in areas such as finance, marketing and professional services, is bucking the trend for female-driven innovation opportunities. According to Mastercard SME research in the Middle East and Africa, 81% of women entrepreneurs across the Middle East and Africa have a digital business presence. In addition to this, GCC nations have incorporated digital literacy as key progress pillars within their strategic vision frameworks.

As a key proponent for helping organisations embark on digital transformation journeys, WSP Middle East is at the forefront of helping businesses, developments, and projects harness technology as an enabler to empower the ways they manage asset data, improving performance, reduce lifecycle costs and minimise risk. According to Monica Feghali of WSP Middle East’s Property & Building business, a primary part of this process requires a shift in thinking, thus placing people in the bigger picture of any transformation journey.

“Innovation is about being open to different perspectives; the same line of thinking applies to improving inclusive participation in the digital economy. Culture is people; hence a shift in culture requires in shift in the way we as human beings think about inclusion and diversity. The future for females in STEM is bright but relies on a cultural shift.

“There are a lot of failures that can happen when jumping on the digital transformation train without first setting priorities and reasoning before the implementation phase begins. This is because digital transformation is not about advancing technology in silo; it’s also about putting the human end user at the centre of the approach, redefining the culture and strategizing the accent of changes needed to allow for successful transformation.

She adds: “The same approach can be a powerful tool towards creating workplaces that enhance the future of being female in digital roles. If workplaces and employee mindsets are agile, transparent, and adaptive, people are better placed to accept, support, and empower their peers in everything that they do.”

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, WSP Middle East’s Assistant Project Manager, Alia Abdulmalik says the sands are shifting towards inclusive thinking, particularly within STEM-based roles. With this change, she adds that “with gender differences being celebrated here in KSA, inclusive thinking is becoming an enabler of greater inclusion across many sectors”.

“As a proud Saudi who has lived and studied here, what I’ve noticed in recent years is the change in attitude towards girls in education and acceptance of digital or STEM opportunities balancing out between genders, she says. “I only see that improving with time. I’m proud my country is creating equal opportunities in the digital sector for future generational success and development… I’m excited to see how it takes us to Vision 2030 and beyond.”

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