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One of the goals of the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which places a strong emphasis on STEM education and training, is to encourage careers in these fields for both men and women. However, we still have a lot of room for improvement for women and their role in STEM innovation. According to UNESCO, only 35% of students enrolled in STEM-related degrees are women and only 3% of them choose to major in IT.
The lack of a more diverse workforce is more crucial than ever with the implementation of innovations like 5G, connectivity, new methods of digital security.
Equal opportunities will help make the unbiased, inclusive and innovative technological future a reality.
We need more female role models
When young women start to make decisions that will affect their professional future, such as university degree and apprenticeship course choices, aspirational figures are a must. Choosing a career where there is a greater presence of women in leadership positions always gives the sense of more opportunities to grow and prosper, in a sector or organisation.
Unfortunately, the events of recent years may have stifled the growth of these aspirations. Jobs held by women during the pandemic were 1.8 times more vulnerable than those held by men, and moving towards a global recession this will continue to put the female workforce, and role models, at risk. However, there is a glimmer of hope - an estimated one in four leadership positions at large global technology firms are expected to be held by women by the end of 2022.
Let us ask ourselves: do girls have enough examples of women who contributed to the advancement of science and technology? Do we think of women as CEOs and men as secretaries or nurses? Better education and visibility of women who are developing professionally in science, mathematics, or technology is needed, to provide role models for next generations. As industry leaders, we must showcase female success and celebrate their accomplishments to inspire girls making their first steps into further education and careers.
For me, I am fortunate enough to work with great role models in the tech sector. I am part of a group of more than 200 people where we share news, opinions, and opportunities for women in STEM. It has been inspiring working alongside some of the group’s members including Cristina Aranda, an internationally renowned entrepreneur and expert in business digitalisation and innovation, and Cecilia Castaño, Professor of Applied Economics and researcher in social science.
Diverse talent will unlock innovation
The visibility of women in technical and managerial positions will help to build and accelerate a more equal and inclusive industry. Not only that, but women in technology can provide a more balanced view of the issues facing the sector and the female gender itself.
Think about it - when there is only one gender making the decisions, the issues that affect women remain largely ignored. In tech, problems can range from the development of
artificial intelligence (AI) that must not fall foul of certain biases, to products or services that are not designed with the uniqueness of the female gender in mind. Digital transformation must go hand in hand with human transformation if it is to be effective.
Now, alongside the growing importance of diversity, equality and inclusion in the sector, leaders are looking to alternative sources for talent. 44% of tech professionals start their careers in non-tech occupations, highlighting the importance of a wider talent pool, and further increasing the variety of skillsets and mindsets. Tech leaders must build a more inclusive workforce to spark more diversity of thought, and with it, more innovation.
The future requires an unbiased female digital identity
The development of digital identities is a crucial component of technological innovation and advancement. However, we still have more to do as biometric bias is a very present issue affecting gender and race.
While biometrics themselves are not inherently biased, the bias comes from a lack of diverse demographic data, bugs, and inconsistencies in algorithms. If a particular demographic is prioritised over others by the training data, the solution will then follow suit. Given how quickly these technologies are being adopted, it is essential that the industry prioritises access for everyone, including women, to influence future developments.
Diversity should be expected. Tech leaders must make a commitment to building a diverse workforce to create an ethical, fair, inclusive workplace. In turn, a diverse workforce will create solutions for people that are free from bias and discrimination.