Digital gender gap: Why access and education are key

For the 2022 Girls in ICT Day, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) chose ‘Access and Safety’ as the centerpiece of this year’s agenda because when access and safety barriers are removed, girls and young women reap the benefits of an active digital life.

Today, the global internet use gender gap is about 12.5 percent, according to ITU research. Furthermore, less than 30 percent of today’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) professionals are women. And the outlook for improvement is not good: currently there are approximately half the number of women studying STEM subjects in tertiary institutions than men.

The issue of safety and access go hand in hand. We need to both make sure we close the gender gap and give young women and girls the opportunity to learn, work and interact freely online.

Addressing access: a global issue that requires local solutions

This is not a single problem with a single solution. My colleague, Zohra Yermeche heads Connect To Learn, Ericsson’s global flagship education program, and she oversees the development and deployment of Ericsson’s technology offerings for global education. She started out at Ericsson as a researcher and has a PhD in signal processing, a branch of electrical engineering. She says that it is important to always consider and understand the specifics of each community.

Firstly, there are the socio-economic constraints. In many parts of the world, low-income families do not prioritize their daughters’ education. Providing scholarships for girls has been one successful approach to address this, as is facilitating access to e-learning through affordable access to the internet.

Then there are cultural dimensions. We need to create awareness of STEM subjects not only with girls but also their families and communities. This is important across the socio-economic spectrum.

Technology influences so much of our life, says Zohra. But our digital world will be biased if not built by a true representation of society. With gender, we’re talking about 50 percent of the global population. We want girls and women to be contributors to the digital economy and society, not just consumers. It’s important that they contribute to creating tools to shape the future.

Zohra points particularly to artificial intelligence (AI) as a good example. If only a minority of the population designs AI algorithms, they become skewed to fit that minority reality. This can put others at the risk of both being shut out and facing discrimination and abuse.

The consequences are far reaching. Without skills for lifelong learning, girls face greater barriers to earning potential and employment later in life. They are more likely to suffer adverse health outcomes and less likely to participate in the decisions that affect them – threatening their ability to build a better future for themselves and their communities.

Bridging the digital gender gap through Connect to Learn

At Ericsson, through our Connect To Learn program, we develop and deploy digital learning platforms and content. We do this to advocate for inclusivity and equity in the use of technology for education and how to bridge digital gaps, with a particular focus for girls in ICT.

Mentoring is another critical aspect of the digital gender gap. Technovation is an NGO that connects mentors to inspire, motivate and coach girls globally to learn about technology and how they can use it to solve problems within their communities. At Ericsson, we have had mentors join the program from Pakistan to South Africa to the US, and the students they mentor have also been located across the globe.

Girls identify a problem and think about they can use tech to solve it. They then develop their own app. It’s true project-based learning and gives girls a chance to truly understand the importance and relevance of their involvement in STEM fields.

Inspiring girls to change the world

What do we risk if we fail? Losing a generation, holding societies back, a less diverse and rich digital world for us all.

With a focus on Girls in ICT, we can engage girls and their supporters today to join a movement that will make a real change both now and into the future.

Explore more

Learn more about how Ericsson is committed to enabling digital inclusion worldwide. Find out how you can shape tomorrow’s new world of possibilities together with Ericsson.

To support international #GirlsInICT day 2022, Ericsson is publishing a social series focusing on real stories of women in tech, hearing from Ericsson’s Florijeta Mulolli, Sorour Falahati and Miao Zhu (above). Check them out now on Ericsson’s Instagram, LinkedInand Facebook channels.

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