True Gender Parity is Centuries Away: Findings from the UN Status of Women Meeting

By Women Love Tech
on 20 April 2023

Jo Stewart-Rattray, Oceania Ambassador, ISACA shares the latest UN findings on gender parity.

It was a privilege to attend the recent opening session of the United Nations 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Let me set the scene for you: “We have lost $1 trillion of GDP because of a lack of women in IT,” Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General said. When he presented this alarming statistic and predicted it will be 300 years before we achieve true gender parity, I knew we were in for a truly honest and confronting sitting.

And the stats kept coming:

  • Globally in the technology sector women face a 21 per cent gender pay gap.
  • Only 22 percent of Artificial Intelligence workers globally are women.
  • By 2050, 75 percent of jobs will be related to science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM). However, women comprise just 30 per cent of the workforce in the 20 largest global tech companies in the world today.
  • A study of 51 countries revealed 38 percent of women had personally experienced online violence.
  • In Australia a national study found that only 1 percent of parents imagined girls to be more interested in tech than boys (compared to 70 percent for boys).
  • In the 111 countries with chief information officers, only 11 percent of those officers are women.
gender parity UN
Mr. Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general

In my 25 years of working in the technology and cybersecurity sectors, I have seen first-hand these stats played out, but admittedly, I have returned from New York feeling a sense of urgency like never before. And I know I speak for many of the other female representatives in attendance from the UN’s 193 member states.

However, despite what seems insurmountable, I am inspired by my global colleagues and together we are taking charge to continue to shift the dial for women across the world.

During the conversation circles that I hosted with 12 countries being represented as part of the National Rural Women’s Coalition, we discussed the affordability and accessibility of technology, and I was encouraged by some exceptional women.

Their innovation – often in the face of necessity – is what struck me most.

A female IT leader in Ghana shared her story about the difficulty of accessing internet coverage in some of the more remote villages she must travel to for work. Her solution came from a child who – from the top of a tree – saw her frustration of no signal and told her that sometimes, he’s able to get internet coverage when he’s at the highest point of the tree! In her haste to report back to Head Office, she typed her message and sent the willing young boy back up the tree with her phone to hit send. She is a welcome visitor to these villages, reimbursing the children for helping her access internet coverage!

In Nigeria we learnt that mobile phones are a status symbol and people would rather give up basic necessities like a meal or transportation before they give up their phones.  A sad testament to modern life.

But for me, most concerning of all is the data that was shared regarding the online violence experienced by women.

cyberbully online computer gender parity abuse

Research has shown that 80 per cent of children in 25 countries report feeling in danger of sexual abuse and exploitation when online, with adolescent girls the most vulnerable. 

In Australia, 79.1 per cent of heterosexual women and 86.6 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual or women of another non-heterosexual orientation have experienced online sexual violence facilitated by dating apps. In many contexts, parents and caregivers limit girls’ time online out of growing concerns about safety, including risks of sexual exploitation, cyberbullying and exposure to harmful content.

A survey of women journalists from 125 countries found that three-quarters had experienced online violence in the course of their work and a third had self-censored in response. The flow-on effect of this is gargantuan, limiting our access to perspectives, information and truth.

What’s more, a recent survey showed that underreporting occurs, with only one in four women reporting acts of technology-facilitated gender-based violence to the platform and only 14 percent reporting it to a protective agency.

How do we tackle this disparity and create change?

There are three key areas that can considerably influence positive change for women in technology.

Appropriate legal frameworks require increasing collaboration with women’s organisations and also enhancing the knowledge of decision-makers about online violence against women to ensure legislation can handle adequate reporting, collection of evidence and law enforcement.

2. The homefront

Self-perpetuating cycles often begin at home, where girls are not encouraged to enter technology-related arenas, lack knowledge about technology, feel no affinity with role models portrayed by the media and therefore express little interest in this field.

This is reflected in the number of present engineering graduates – only 28 percent globally are women.

These gaps are rooted in long-standing and persistent stereotypes. The onus to drive change must be on the people perpetuating the stereotypes, along with those in education and the workforce that can implement positive steps for change.

gender women in engineering stem technology

3. Women in Design

Artificial intelligence is considered the future of technology and with only 22 percent of women currently involved in its development, inherent bias will be unavoidable.

This gender divide, which sees fewer women involved in design of technology, naturally leads to over-representation or under-representation of certain groups in data sets. The knock-on effect is that this data influences machine learning systems, which subsequently use those imbalanced data sets to train smart appliances or artificial intelligence. While gender-biased technology affects individuals, it contributes to setbacks in gender equality and women’s empowerment as a whole.

My visit to the United Nations sitting was certainly enlightening. I will continue to stand with a global force of women and champion efforts to close the gender digital divide so we can fast-track change.

About the Author

Jo Stewart-Rattray has over 25 years’ experience in the security industry. She consults in risk and technology issues with a particular emphasis on governance and IT security in businesses as a Director with BRM Advisory. She regularly provides strategic advice and consulting to the banking and finance, utilities, healthcare, manufacturing, tertiary education, retail, and government sectors.

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