Women are still a minority in the technology sector. The crisis generated by the covid-19 pandemic deepened structural inequalities but, at the same time, it is opening up opportunities to narrow the gender gap in this industry. The Women That Build Awards, promoted by Globant, returned this year to help reduce that gap, make female leadership visible and empower women who dream and achieve.
Although some progress can be seen in the world of female work thanks to intense efforts to reduce inequality, the pandemic has been a very regressive turning point. Yet another generation will have to wait for parity to be reached: the impact of the coronavirus caused the time needed to close the gender gap to go from 99.5 years to 136, according to a calculation published by the World Economic Forum each January.
The COVID-19 crisis halted improvement trends that had been occurring for women in the world of labour and, particularly, in technology: various indicators show that it impacted much more than just men, and it froze or slowed down gains in workplace, educational and entrepreneurial development.
Then, the pandemic widened the pre-existing structural gap, and, at the same time, made the accumulated debts more visible than ever. Today the definitive incorporation of women into work spaces has a direct impact on the regeneration of all aspects of societies and economies. The needs are urgent, especially in developing markets. We also know that there is no single response, nor isolated effort able to resolve these opportunities.
What is the current status of women in the IT world? Where is inequality and what factors deepen it? What initiatives can contribute to closing the gap? We focused on these questions to understand how far the problem goes and how to collaborate in finding a solution.
The outlook in recent years
Gender inequality in the world of technology begins with the equal possibility of having access to an internet connection. The goal of the Internet is to unite, to drive growth and multiply opportunities. But it is shocking how a tool that was born to connect can do so in such an uneven way. Almost half the world is still offline, and most of these people are women from developing countries. According to a study by the World Wide Web Foundation on the gender gap in internet access, men are still 21% more likely to be online than women, a percentage that rises to 52% in less developed countries.
This very small representation in the IT sector has been attracting attention for years. In 2017 men were protagonists, even in global technological giants. In fact, women did not occupy more than 23% of the positions in any case. In 2018, UNESCO anticipated that 75% of jobs would be related to STEM fields and pointed out that in the world only 22% of professionals who held positions in these sectors were women. In the field of machine learning, it is only 12%. Then in 2020, the UN Women’s annual study showed that only 35% of STEM career students globally were female.
This last data supports another fundamental reason to understand the low presence of women in the industry: their training. The gender disparity begins when choosing a college career. This has not changed much in recent years and less in regions such as Latin America. For example, according to data gathered by CIPPEC, almost 6 out of 10 university students are women in Argentina, but only 25% study careers such as engineering or applied science. These decisions come from ways of labeling talents and from how one perceives oneself from childhood plus stereotypes that are reaffirmed in school and continue over the years.
In Europe, in 2019, The State of European Tech report delved into the subject according to 13 indicators of the presence of women in the technological world measured by the European Commission Women in Digital Scoreboard. The main gaps this study revealed have to do with training and work. Only 17% of tech specialists were women and their salary was 19% lower than that of men. Additionally, 34% of all STEM graduates were women. Almost half of the women in the sector claimed to have experienced discrimination working in this industry. And the most overwhelming fact: 93% of the capital invested in tech companies was destined to teams exclusively made up of men.
These trends continue. And it is important to wonder why. A recent study on women in technology by Human Resources consultancy Michael Page, based on 800 cases, offers some answers as to why the percentage of women in the IT world of Latin America is so low. In Argentina, 62% stated that it is due to male dominance in the sector. In Brazil, 47% said it is due to a lack of inspiration and role models. In Chile, 52% said it is due to fewer opportunities for senior positions and growth. In Colombia, 38% argue that salary differences are to blame. In all of the countries of the region, women are greatly affected by the lack of balance between personal and work life.
The same study reveals lack of registration of candidates, lack of opportunities for female talent, shortage of talent with the necessary knowledge and lack of experience to fill certain positions, as some of the reasons for the shortage of women leaders in technology.
A step back that enables looking forward
Since the COVID-19 crisis, the world has discussed its effects. We know that the new scenario changed everyone’s homes, ways of studying, working and consuming. And also that it impacted much more on women. The changes generated by the pandemic produced a setback of more than a decade in the progress achieved regarding female labor participation. According to a recent study carried out by ECLAC in Latin America and the Caribbean, the female participation rate in the labor market (that is, working or looking for work) in 2020 was 46%: a 6% decrease compared to 2019; while female unemployment rose to 12%. This is combined with the fact that 73.2% of people employed in the health sector are women, and have been exposed to extreme and risky working conditions with a salary lower than men.
In 2020, there was a massive exit of women from their work spaces, mainly because they had to turn to taking care of their homes ―the so-called “care crisis” that was triggered by the closure of schools, sports clubs and other community spaces― and they did not resume their job search. But they were the first to take on unpaid work at home.
These data show backwardness at a global level as well as very harsh conditions for all women around the world, to a greater or lesser extent. But the pandemic has also transformed the world of work and this opens a scenario of opportunities to support, improve and increase female labor participation. In other words, to reconfigure the labor market in an equitable way.
Thus, digital acceleration brings great opportunities, new roles and challenging alternatives to improve this reality. Due to the dynamism in which it develops, the technological world has become more penetrable, and the current context presents new spaces for women to add value. The rapid expansion of the digital economy is having a massive effect on the labor market and the kinds of skills needed to participate in economic and social activities that will help put societies on their feet.
The current crisis is also a huge opportunity for the transformation of female employment: we are at the best time to renew the skills that accompany the technological acceleration in an inclusive and diverse way.
In terms of IT entrepreneurship, to promote development it is necessary to identify the best spaces in which to generate more growth. According to a recent survey by Endeavor, the main challenge faced by women STEMpreneurs is financing and access to formal capital (60%), followed by almost 40% managerial or technical skills (39%) and thirdly but not less relevant (36%), the balance between personal life and work and the social role of women. But when asked what are the top three reasons why female entrepreneurs struggle to reach high potential, the answer on work-life balance comes in first, with 60%.
Women that Build Awards
The challenge is great and urgent: the gender gap is a global problem that needs a global solution. The technology sector does not escape this logic. According to the World Economic Forum, gender gaps are more likely in sectors that require disruptive technical skills, such as cloud computing, engineering or artificial intelligence.
In this context, from Globant we announced the launch of the annual edition of the Women that Build Awards, which highlight those professionals who generate a positive impact in the IT industry. The awards celebrate women who, with their leadership, are creating conditions for a more inclusive, equitable and diverse future for all. The winners will be selected based on their efforts in managing innovation, collaboration, promoting diversity and connecting women from all over the world.
“We are deeply committed to helping close the gender gap in our industry. The Women that Build Awards is a key piece to give visibility to the women who are leading this change ”, says Patricia Pomies, Globant’s Chief Operating Officer. “We need more female role models to follow, that can motivate women and girls to join the IT sector. These awards are our way of offering inspiration and a call to build a more diverse and just future together, ”she added.
“The rapid expansion of the digital economy uncovers great opportunities for more women to develop their professional careers. We have to continue to provide a platform for those who can inspire others ”, said Martín Migoya, CEO and co-founder of Globant. “Through these awards, we can celebrate and learn from exceptional women who have extraordinary stories and show how they have motivated others to do the same.”
Initiatives like these allow us to discover and show stories that are of great value. More representation and diversity within organizations enable to inspire more women to train and work in technology, thereby closing the gender gap within the sector. Diversity is key in any business, which is why these awards are a call to action to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future.
A gap that can be closed
Inclusion is no longer seen as an exclusively demanding issue and the figures worldwide prove that it has to do with the chore of the business and with companies’ profitability. With a greater participation of women in the IT industry, almost US $ 11 trillion of the world’s GDP can be generated, according to the World Information Technology and Services Alliance. In Latin America alone, the size of the economy could increase by up to 22.5% if higher-quality female employment were to increase, according to IDB data.
Women in technology are a source of value, innovation, new perspectives and views. At Globant we are convinced that part of the solution to this undeniable debt is to generate these conversations and initiatives on leadership, entrepreneurship and training that help us all to look towards a future for all.