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Can gender parity be reached in the 4th industrial revolution?

iWednesday, Feb 3rd, 2016 comments by aditilachman

Im attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where world leaders have gathered to discuss how we improve the state of the world amongst many other things.The theme is around mastering the fourth industrial revolution. Its all around new technology, enegery and the way of the future. Yet while we talk about artifical intelligence, there is still one simple truth, we like in a world of gross inequalities. Its 2016, because I am a women, I will earn between 25% - 40% less that a man doing the same job, if I’m lucky, according to numbers released by UN Women. Yet, new studies are showing the potential for economic growth and development of a country if you educate girls and women become active participants in the labour force. As we move into the 4th Industrial revolution, where technology has the power to change economic landscapes, we may see more strides in achieving gender parity. The previous industrial revolutions have been mechanical in nature, heavy engineering, and largely excluding to women. The 4th Industrial revolution is around disruptive technology to create new solutions.

Technology as an enabler can yet be the solution to gender discrimination and can bring about equality. Already we start to see the shifts of women as consumers of technology to designers and coders, creating demand and matching unmet demands. But there is still a big gender gap in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In developed countries women represent around 26% of the STEM workforce. In developing countries, this number is far lower. If you disaggregate STEM, one will find numbers skewed with more women in science and mathematics and fewer in engineering and technology. In South Africa women represent only 10% of the engineering and technology workforce according to work done by WomEng. So how do we change the status quo, especially as economic growth and development hinges on a STEM skilled workforce?

The answer as it turns out is relatively simple; we start to involve girls at a younger age. There is a new understanding of the role of STEM and importance of STEM in jobs of the future. It is has become a learning imperative, a basic skill like reading and writing. We have seen a number of gender-targeted programs increase, showcasing of better role models for girls in STEM and moving perceptions around STEM careers to attract girls.

It takes time to change a culture, and to make STEM appealing, but we can see positive strides. In 1989, the British Journal of Guidance and Counseling found that 11-year-old girls aspired to be teaches, nurses, flight attendants, secretaries and hairdressers, the very “traditional” female careers. In 2015, Fatherly (a website for millennial dads) released their survey results showcasing the drastic shift for girls.

Overall 41% of girls expressed interest in technical career, vs. 32% of boys. Both health science and hard sciences are becoming an increasingly popular choice among women. Engineering may not yet be on the above list but it is a matter of time. In South Africa, we have seen enrolment rates for girls into higher education increase, especially for STEM courses. In Kuwait girls make up over 50% of the engineering classes. The 4th industrial revolution may just see a gender revolution as a happy consequence. It is the hope that with this new generation, and through this new revolution that gender parity is within reach. 

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