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Taking stock: Data and evidence on gender equality in digital access, skills and leadership

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March 2019

The inaugural report of the EQUALS Research Group lays the foundation for the EQUALS Partnership agenda by surveying the landscape of knowledge on gender equality as it relates to the three EQUALS action areas – Access, Skills, and Leadership. It should serve as a planning resource to inform future activities of EQUALS partners and to serve the broader community of policymakers, practitioners, and researchers interested in solving gender inequality challenges in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), development of basic and advanced ICT skills, and participation in the ICT industry.

While our primary interest is in ICTs, this topic intersects with other issues, in particular the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field in general. Scholars argue that in many respects the state of gender digital equality can be traced back to trends in the socialisation of STEM as a male-dominated field (for example, Quirós et al., 2018; Steinke, 2017).

Furthermore, significant definitional issues complicate the analytic focus for this type of research. The continually evolving nature of technology and the existence of different categorisation schemes give rise to questions about what falls within the scope of ICTs and what constitutes an ICT (or ICT-related) occupation.

The nature of available information also affects analysis, as much of the existing research and data (particularly for skills and leadership) relate to STEM, technology, or engineering broadly. Throughout this report, we use a variety of terms including “STEM”, “science and technology”, “technology”, “digital technologies”, “ICT” and “computing”, depending on the scope of the available data.

Report Outline

The report has two parts. Part One reviews research and data (mostly as of June, 2018) on the three core action areas of the EQUALS Partnership: ICT Access, Skills, and Leadership. It covers trends as represented in official statistics, academic reports, and grey literature, and it assesses the availability of relevant sex-disaggregated data.

Part One begins with a discussion of selected dimensions of access to ICTs (Chapter 1), distinguished broadly as basic access (access to computers, mobile phones, and the internet) and meaningful access (focusing on access to use of digital financial services, in the few areas for which official statistics are available). This is followed by a discussion of gender equality in basic and advanced ICT skills (Chapter 2), from early to tertiary education as well as through non-traditional pathways. Chapter 3 examines gender equality in ICT leadership: employment within the industry and academia; attainment of leadership positions; entrep-reneurship participation; and inclusion in relevant policymaking. Chapter 4 deals with the dark side of the digital age — risks and dangers associated with digital technologies, as well as negative outcomes and negative responses to advances in gender equality. Chapter 5 summarises observed obstacles and associated recommendations to improve gender equality in access, skills, and leadership. Finally, Chapter 6 assesses the availability of relevant sex-disaggregated data.

Part Two of the report comprises independently authored chapters by members of the EQUALS Research Group. It brings together theoretical perspectives and research data on themes to broaden our understanding of pathways to gender equality in the digital age, outlining potential agendas for the Partnership. These themes fall into three broad categories: People, Digital
Skills, and Pathways.


The first section focuses on People — specific populations of interest in technology: diverse sexual minorities (“Gender variance and the gender digital divide”); people in low and middle-income countries (“Understanding the gender gap in the Global South”); children and youth (“‘echnologies and youth”); women with disabilities (“Accessibility, intersectionality and universal design”); and women farmers (“ICT in a changing climate”).

The second section highlights the importance of educational and training institutions in addressing gender gaps in Digital Skills (“The role of educational institutions”) and the implications of gender gaps in the labour market (“The gender wage gap and skills development: Perspectives of young women”). Finally, “A gender perspective on security and privacy” discusses the skills needed to deal with these challenges in the digital age.

The third section, Pathways, places the gender digital equality agenda within broader frameworks: the pitfalls of over-enthusiasm about the equalising potential of technology (“Investigating empowering narratives”); arguments for more inclusive technology-driven social innovation (“Technology and wealth creation”); and the potential of artificial intelligence for eliminating gender
inequality (“Hello, Siri”).

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