by Shaun Crawford
EY is an IMA B2B Partner
The huge technological advances that we have seen over the past few decades have changed the world for the better in many ways. It would be wrong to say that we have all benefitted equally from these changes, however. Millions of people, particularly in the less developed markets, have scarcely benefitted at all. And even in the developed markets women are not reaping the same benefits of the technological revolution as men.
Unless we are very careful, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is only going to make matters worse. Already, there have been instances of algorithms targeting men, rather than women, with job ads for high-paying roles. And as the use of AI becomes more sophisticated and widespread, women could find that they are inadvertently discriminated against in a host of different situations, ranging from their ability to get a mortgage through to their access to healthcare services. We have to wrestle with this issue if we are to avoid programming bias into our future.
So, in today’s Transformative Age, how do we ensure women belong in every aspect of business? In theory, the simple solution is to hire more female computer scientists, data analysts and developers. Yet, the reality is more complicated.
Over time the technology industry has consistently failed to attract and retain female talent and its reputation as a male-dominated industry has solidified, rather than subsided. Since women are excluded from technology, they pursue careers in other industries instead, which only serves to exacerbate the problem. The stats say it all: Today, women hold a smaller share of US computer science jobs than they did in the 1980s.
Here are three ways we as leaders of organizations can ensure that women belong equally:
1. Creating and investing in programs
This International Women’s Day, leaders across business, government and the not-for-profit sector should consider how we can find long-term solutions that encourage more women to pursue careers in science, technology, economics and mathematics (STEM). It’s been long discussed that we need to work with schools, universities and providers of employer training programs to establish how STEM can be made more appealing to girls and young women. We also need to consider how we can equip girls and women with the skills and experience that they need to flourish in STEM careers. But we still need more programs. At EY, we have a variety of school leaver programs and our STEM Advantage, 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.
Getting more women to embark on STEM careers so that we widen the talent pool is just the start of the process, however. We also need to support them to remain in those careers – all the way through to retirement, if they wish. At present, STEM is known for its worryingly high female drop-out rate. In fact, according to the US Center for Talent Innovation, women are more than twice as likely as men to quit the tech industry. Meanwhile, in 2015, an Australian study found that almost a third of women employed in STEM fields expected to leave their job within five years due to a lack of career advancement and professional development opportunities.
2. Creating the right culture
Clearly, STEM employers must work even harder than other employers to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men to progress in their careers. So, they need to create a supportive workplace culture, where there are visible senior female role models, and ensure that women have access to coaching, mentorship, networks, flexible working and promotion opportunities. Above all, the Australian research suggests that STEM employers should find ways to enable women to balance their work and life responsibilities.
3. Encouraging generational diversity
Another issue that I am very much aware of, as a trustee of the International Longevity Centre, is the ageing population. As we live, longer, healthier lives, we will both need – and expect – to enjoy longer, happier and more fulfilling working lives. Yet, today, women in many industries – not just the STEM industries – find themselves increasingly excluded from the workplace after the age of 45. This exclusion is an appalling waste of individual knowledge, skills and talent. It also comes at a heavy cost to both the economy and society more broadly, not least because women live longer than men on average.
Given that digital technology is part of everyday business and life, ensuring women belong is something we need to fix today. It won’t happen overnight, but we can fix it by encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects at school and to enter STEM careers after university. We can fix it by supporting women as they progress through their careers in STEM to reach increasingly senior levels. And we can fix it by working hard to retain women in the workplace as they age, both in STEM fields and generally, rather than allowing them to vanish from our organizations, taking all their valuable experience and skills with them. I’m not saying that these are quick fixes, and they will not work in isolation from each other. But I believe that it is through the combination of all of them that we will accelerate gender equality.
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