Empowering Innovation: Women’s Inclusion in the Digital Revolution
With the continuous digitalisation and gradual, although unstoppable, launch of artificial intelligence, the job market as we know it is about to change dramatically. However, if we want the upcoming digital revolution to be more transformative than destructive, women's inclusion in all its aspects is of vital interest. In addition to this, other topics related to better representation and the inclusion of women were dynamically debated by stakeholders representing private and public sectors on the sidelines of the GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum 2023.
A recent study showed that, on average, women face a higher computerisation risk in their jobs than men. Computerisation or "destructive digitalisation" could be described as the process of labour market transformation which replaces routine work with technology-based solutions. Although new digital technologies might cost workers jobs in manual industries regardless of gender, there is a significant risk that women might get affected more significantly due to their inclination to employment in businesses based on more routine tasks. Mainly, individuals with strong analytical, interpersonal, and advanced information and communications technologies (ICT) skills will benefit from "transformative digitalisation", which would complement and increase the added value of human labour rather than replace it with machines. If the upcoming digital revolution is to lower the gender pay gap and provide labour and inclusion parity, equipping women with such a skillset will be essential for strengthening gender equality in the 21st century.
That is why attracting more girls and women to study technologies and ICT play a critical role. It is a general fact that the ICT industry is one of the best renumerated and most computerisation-resistant fields in a modern economy. Yet, women still represent a significant minority in technology, whether as students in technological universities, ICT workers, or modern entrepreneurs and investors. In the European Union, women account for only 17% of students in technological universities. Surprisingly, this trend does not follow the traditional east-west divide in Europe, with Romania (32%) and Bulgaria (31%) holding 2nd and 3rd place, respectively, while Luxembourg (9%) and the Netherlands (8%) finding themselves on the bottom of the entire ranking. Therefore, The data reveals that attracting more young women to ICT studies is a pan-European challenge. The praxis shows that creating dedicated platforms to educate and attract pupils and high school students to study ICT is a very effective way to increase female representation in technical universities. Slovakia already has some positive examples of non-governmental organisations like Aj ty v IT and Ženský algoritmus. Both organisations have gained national and international recognition in facilitating the connection between young girls and women with learning possibilities and new tech skills.
Another possible explanation for the gender disparity in the ICT sector might be the lack of female role models in this industry. Having a role model in any area of personal or professional life plays a key role in many important choices that young people make, and the ICT sector is no exception. Yet, when we think about the biggest tech companies, the founders and CEOs are most often men. While the significance of men founders should not be disregarded, it might be time to highlight the success stories of women tech entrepreneurs as well. In Europe, there are already a few conferences, such as European Women in Tech or the Women in Tech Global Summit, and EU-sponsored awards, such as the European Prize for Women Innovators, which dedicate a part, if not the entire agenda, to women tech entrepreneurs, scientists, and investors. With increasing media attention and public outreach, the chosen female speakers have a great chance to inspire younger women and become their role models leading them to enter the innovation field in various roles and to persevere for the long term in the industry.
Addressing the issue of gender-based discrepancies in financing men- and women-founded start-ups plays an equally important role. Being able to attract individual angel investors or, in later stages, larger venture capital portfolios often prove to be the question of life and death for every start-up. However, as in many other areas in our society, even here, women founders tend to be perceived by investors (who tend to be overwhelmingly men) as less trustworthy and capable entrepreneurs than their male counterparts. This is clearly reflected in the fact that, in 2021, women founders secured just 1.1% of all venture capital investment in Europe. Moreover, having fewer fellow women entrepreneurs and investors, women in the innovation ecosystem are naturally part of a significantly smaller network than their men counterparts, only adding to other existing limitations in their starting companies' potential growth. This is where successful women entrepreneurs might play a critical role. Successful businesswomen could make a real difference, not just as role models or mentors but also as effective facilitators in connecting prospective women innovators with already established tech leaders or investors. Creating formal platforms where the starting entrepreneurs could meet and present their projects to investors willing to support them with their capital could be the first, although essential, step towards securing more financing for female-led companies.
Often, even when women reach leadership positions, they tend to be the only or one of very few women leaders in a managerial meeting, frequently feeling isolated or ignored by their male colleagues. There is still a lot to do to ensure that women are represented and heard and allowed to act and contribute to decision-making. The companies that want to reverse this trend are therefore advised to conduct so-called "gender audits", which measure not only the number of women but also the space given to them to speak, ask questions, and put forward proposals leading to corporate decisions. Including men in the entire conversation is no less important. They need to be assured that more women and their input is not a zero-sum game. On the contrary, discovering the untapped potential of women might be highly beneficial for the plurality of views and the success of the company. Men in the top leadership should not be sidelined in this process but instead offered the role of allies and mentors of those highly motivated women managers.
One does not need to reinvent the wheel to ensure more women are in the innovation ecosystem. More state support for platforms encouraging young women to study ICT would enhance the great work those organisations have already done in the field. The same applies to the conferences highlighting the role of women innovators and entrepreneurs in the tech industry. As it appears for now, non-profits and tech industry organisations are well placed in connecting women start-uppers with prospective investors. is better to. Yet, even here, the state and media could increase their visibility by promoting their activities more broadly. The public sector could also regularly award companies that conduct and act accordingly to the results of gender audits. Another excellent example of how the government can proactively contribute to creating synergies across the entire innovation ecosystem is establishing a Chief Innovation Officer who would be officially responsible for the inter-ministerial coordination of innovation reforms and policy, narrowing the gap between policymakers and the reality on the ground. While each measure makes a difference in its respective area, their combination, enhanced by sufficient public-private financing, could bring a genuinely noticeable difference. The transition from industrial to knowledge-based economies represents one of the main priorities of every modern economy – it would be a pity to leave the potential of half of our population untapped.
Disclaimer: Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or EACEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.