Over the next decade, a new wave of digital technologies is set to reshape how we live and work. It is imperative that women play an equal role in shaping their impact. Not only should the new opportunities these technologies create be open to all, it is also critical to tap into diverse experiences and perspectives to unlock their full value.
Despite the steps we have taken towards gender equality in most industries, women remain underrepresented in information technology. Just 23% of tech jobs are held by women in South Africa, according to the website, WomenInTech.co.za. Given the growing importance of digital tech in our day to day lives, this gender gap cannot be tolerated.
Consider these stats from EY: women are predicted to lose five jobs for every job gained through automation, compared to only three for men. EY argues that it’s not just that women hold many of the jobs that might be automated in the next decade – it’s also that women entrepreneurs are not gaining access to digital tools that could be a game changer for them.
For these reasons, it’s important that women embrace digital technology as an enabler and take a leading role in driving adoption of new technologies. Let’s take a look at the opportunities artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) are creating for women.
- AI and automation
The rise of AI is one of the most exciting trends in digital technology at the moment. Intelligent systems are taking a bigger role in our lives, whether by recommending personalised music playlists, answering our questions via a chatbot or voice assistant, or helping banks and insurance companies to flag possible incidents of fraud.
Any woman who pursues a career in AI-related fields will find enormous demand for her skills in the market. But by EY’s estimates women currently hold only 20% of roles creating bots in major tech companies – meaning that they are under-represented in one of the careers of the future.
This is especially concerning when one looks at AI’s growing influence in our lives – from recruitment to loan applications. If women are under-represented in AI, there is a real danger that many of the biases of our unequal society will become deeply embedded into AI systems. This is because AI learns from the data it is fed by its developers.
One example of this was an algorithm Amazon developed to rate candidates for software developer jobs and other technical posts. The computer models unfairly favoured male candidates based on nothing more than the fact that the bulk of successful resumes in its database were from men.
When one flips this around, it’s possible to envision building AI solutions that remove human bias and unfair discrimination from decision-making—helping to create a fairer world where technology assesses applications for jobs, home loans, and so on, without the impact of human prejudices.
By 2025, the IoT market is expected to grow to around 75 billion connected devices—cars, home appliances and sensors, wearable computers, smart office tools, equipment in smart factories, and more besides. As with AI, this technology will have an increasingly large impact on our daily lives.
That’s why it’s critical for women to get involved—the tech industry has not always grasped what women customers are looking for. Organisations such as Women of Wearables are trying to change this by championing solutions tailored to women’s health, privacy and professional concerns.
For example, we’re seeing ‘FemTech’ health wearable solutions that encompass functionality for periods, fertility and motherhood – issues that have been ignored in male-led, ‘gender-blind’ app and device development processes.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency have been viewed as a boys’ club, but that is changing fast. Apart from blockchain’s potential role in changing how we transact and how many corporate business processes work, there is growing excitement about using it to empower marginalised, financially excluded people.
In many poorer parts of the world, women are under- or unbanked. They have worse access to financial services than men. In turn, this often means they need to travel long distances when they need to make a payment or remittance, or that they need to store money under their beds. Blockchain could offer tools that solve age-old-problems for the financially excluded, such as digital identity management, credit scoring, storing savings and simple, trusted transactions.