Bridging the digital gender divide before it becomes too wide

There was a time when the digital underbelly of our world was neatly hidden out of view. The secrets behind technology’s inner workings were placed in the care of our digital and IT experts, while the rest of us dealt only with the beautifully designed and consumer-friendly ‘front end’. For the large majority of us, all we needed to know was that by pressing a button on our phones, we could call a friend. Beyond that, there was no reason to care.

Female and Male professional working at a desk

As the world becomes increasingly digitised however, as does the risk that this compartmentalisation will leave the less digitally proficient behind, and recent research indicates that women are particularly vulnerable.

A foreboding message from the future

The field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) currently bears a particularly foreboding message:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that women are more vulnerable to AI driven job displacement, than men, projecting that 11 per cent of jobs currently held by women are at risk. This divide is compounded by women’s underrepresentation in the fields of emerging technologies – a recent UNESCO study found that only 22 per cent of AI professionals worldwide are female, while women make up only 12 per cent of AI researchers.

According to the World Economic Forum, this gender divide starts at an early age, with just 3 per cent of females taking coursework in information communication technology, and between 5-8 per cent pursuing studies in mathematics and engineering.

This disparity has led to women lacking the skills and knowledge currently needed to appropriately identify, understand and harness these technologies within their job role. And as it is individual tasks that are set to be replaced, not the entire job, it is critical women are armed with the skills necessary to work alongside AI and complement it, rather than be displaced by it.

Professional woman and man reviewing work

Ensuring a more diverse digital landscape

Whilst the arrival of AI bears a foreboding message, it carries with it the opportunity for women to advance. There are many paths towards reducing the digital gender gap, including government and industry investment in appropriate education and training for all women, particularly at early life stages. There has been a global push in recent years to prioritise a more gender-equal digital landscape – global governments have invested millions into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning modules in schools.

But the impact of such investment only scrapes the surface. It is important too that women take advantage of the training and upskilling opportunities available to them if they are to future-proof their career and benefit from the advancements this technological revolution can afford them.

Associate Professor Leah Ruppanner of the University of Melbourne’s Policy Lab is leading a new course designed to do just that. Built in close consultation with women and industry, the microcredential will arm women with a fundamental understanding of AI and automation, and how these may affect your profession.

Says Associate Professor Ruppanner, “this course is about building knowledge, competence and confidence in understanding what AI is and how AI is going to change women’s work lives. Our purpose is to bring that skill to women regardless of their starting points so they can be prepared for their work futures with clear, tangible skills.”

We must also recognise that these advancements are not just for women. For to realise the true maturity and therefore potential of AI, it must cater to and empower all of society, not just parts.

If you want to bridge the gender digital divide and future-proof your world, our Future of Women at Work series which consists of the  Artificial Intelligence and Women Microcredential and Artificial Intelligence Policies will arm you with a fundamental understanding of AI and other emerging technologies, providing you with the digital skills and interpersonal approaches necessary to establish gender equity in our future workplaces.

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