Blog of Evelyne PARA, SI UN Representative at UNESCO
Today, many countries are convinced that their future economic competitiveness will depend on how quickly they can make the transition to digital and ‘green’ societies. Particularly as time is running out to achieve their sustainable development goals by 2030.
The world is going through a phase of profound change, which is disrupting the way we live, work and think. All over the world, the automation of low-skilled jobs is growing, and as a result these low-skilled jobs, often associated with repetitive tasks carried out by women, will gradually disappear, whilst people with higher levels of education and skills are increasingly required in the labour market.
The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted knowledge production systems. This dynamic builds on the trend for greater international scientific collaboration, which bodes well for addressing other global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. However, this dynamic has also to prepare us for the jobs of the future, particularly related to industry 4.0 – digital transformation. Women must not miss out on these future’s jobs, but are we prepared for this revolution? In the different United Nation agencies, SI Representatives encourage member states to develop institutional policies and skills training, adapted for women and girls.
Women risk missing the train of future’s jobs
The growth of digital development is uneven around the world https://youtu.be/72Ht8ZdQiTc. It is also uneven in the data concerning gender, with women still being a minority in digital development https://youtu.be/7oA3d1Z2SEk.
Although women have achieved parity (in numbers) in the life sciences in many countries, and even dominate the field in some cases, they still only represent a quarter (28%) of higher education graduates in engineering, and 40% of those in computer science. Only 22% of professionals working in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are women. Furthermore, less than one in four business researchers are female, and when women start their own business, they often struggle to access funding.
The UN predicts that for every job created by digital industry 4.0, women will lose five jobs, compared to three for men. Therefore, this development must be accompanied by institutional policies to ensure that girls and women are well informed, that they understand the professional choices available to them, and they have access to suitable qualifying training.
In the UN Agencies, SI Representatives present policy recommendations and actions to help states work for gender equality in digital societies of the future. The good news is that a diverse workforce is becoming a critical factor in gaining investor confidence and increasing profit margins.
Industry 4.0 faces skills shortage
Women remain in the minority in Science, Digital Information Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). These are the fields that are at the origin of the digital revolution and therefore of many jobs of future. This trend is even more problematic as there is a skills shortage in many of these areas. To correct this gender imbalance, strenuous efforts must be made at government, university, and business levels, not only to attract girls and women to these fields, but above all to retain them.
In the European labour market, the demand for STEM skills is expected to almost triple, from 8% of the workforce in 2015 to 23% in 2025, whilst employment in STEM-related sectors is expected to grow around 6.5%. Closing the gender gap in STEM education would have a positive effect on economic growth. The skills shortage fuels competition as businesses and institutions compete to attract and retain talent. This situation can represent a good opportunity for women trained in the disciplines concerned, who would find themselves in a strong position to negotiate their working conditions with a potential employer.
In the United States, women make up 57% of the workforce, but only 25% of IT professionals. Despite the progress of technological multinationals (Google, Apple, Amazon, Huawei, Samsung, Microsoft, Facebook, etc.), parity is far from being achieved within technical and management teams.
To be smart the digital revolution will need to be inclusive
The current skills shortage in AI, in IT, and engineering, is an opportunity for women to bridge the gap, both as employees and as employers. The establishment of mechanisms that will ensure that technology entrepreneurs have easy access to venture capital as well as other sources of financing will be crucial.
Companies in the digital sector have the advantage of being less capitalised and require fewer staff than in traditional sectors. They often also need less office space. In countries where women find it difficult to access capital or to rent or buy real estate, the ability to do without expensive premises could make all the difference for women entrepreneurs.
Digital technologies, which facilitate telecommuting and networking whilst expanding access to information, have been extremely helpful in ensuring physical distancing is respected and ensuring information sharing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has caused some upheavals in the work-life balance that may well take hold. These changes will need to be translated into policies that ensure that women do not take on a disproportionate share of unpaid work (parenting, domestic and educational tasks), but rather, they have sufficient time and energy to make their mark on the sciences and innovations of the future, in order to effectively meet the major challenges of our time, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, pandemics, environmental degradation or unsustainable urbanisation.
To find out more visit UNESCO Science Report 2021 HERE