The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) gives us an incredible opportunity to unite as human beings against automation. The reality is it is not just about men losing roles to women or vice versa, but humans losing roles to automation. However, in order to unite as human beings we need to first address the challenge of women being left behind. Inclusion of women is a joint responsibility with men and exclusion has joint risks.
Worldwide, the proportion of women using the internet is 12 percent less than men, which increases to 32.9 percent in less developed countries. This gap is symbolic of a larger problem of the digital exclusion of women and girls. As the world embraces 4IR, challenges for women are amplified. We must tackle the toxic norms that hold women back. If women who account for half the world’s working age population do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will be affected.
The challenges of 4IR have the ability to increase the size of the pie for all and shift the pendulum towards inclusion. It is a choice we will make to become stronger as humans. The guidelines for inclusion of women given below may be considered as a starting point to adapt to the imminent wave of changes:
1. Early investment in girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills will not only help break down gender stereotypes but also increase women workforce in scientific fields. Women are currently under-represented in fields experiencing job growth such as engineering and information and communication technology (ICT). We need to challenge the perception that technology is not for women or girls and expose girls to STEM; empower them as leaders of the future 4IR promises. We also need to ensure they can create the technologies that help us avoid the replication of old gender stereotypes and inequalities in the digital space.
2. Given that women are more involved in repetitive work, women are at high risk of displacement by technology. However, automation will also dictate efforts to create a level playing field between men and women so that no one is left behind. 4IR will put emphasis on human talent such as creativity and ingenuity as opposed to masculine skill sets. Women with digital skill sets may get equal opportunities to engage in the new tech-enabled world. But, women must first “show up” in the digital field to be in the game.
3. Accelerate gender parity - increase women’s economic participation worldwide. Political leaders, policy makers and business leaders globally are aware of the urgent need to empower women. Accenture predicts we could reach gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed countries and by 2060 in developing countries if we increase the pace at which women become ‘digitally fluent’.
4. The new digital landscape will provide female entrepreneurs with the flexibility to start businesses with a small investment and have access to markets globally. To encourage women entrepreneurs, an ecosystem needs to be built where women are inspired, encouraged and rewarded for embracing entrepreneurship.
Bangladesh is an impressive economic success story. It has made dramatic strides in reducing poverty, increasing GDP and lifting future prospects for millions of people. Bangladesh hopes to benefit from the big opportunity of digital equality and 4IR for which we must shift gears quickly to give girls the tools, skills and opportunities they need to succeed in and fiercely drive a digital future. The need of the hour is maverick mindsets who dare to cross the chasm.
By opening up more opportunities and more flexible ways of working, and building safe infrastructure, we can give our girls the opportunity to learn the skills they need to become the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs. However, none of this will be possible till we address the specific gendered discriminations, exploitations and dangers they face every day. We also need to make sure that our laws, policies and infrastructure are in place to ensure girls can access training, financial resources and jobs in safety, without fear of violence, harassment and discrimination.
In conclusion I feel we should deeply reflect on the impact 4IR will have on human beings. The assumption that technology is dividing us is not true. I believe it’s us human beings who divide us, the same way that human beings have divided ourselves throughout history before technology was even available to be blamed. It is important for men and women to consciously unite professionally and digitally. Technology is just a reflection of us. It cannot be a divider or an equaliser; it merely follows the instructions given by us. We should all try to remember this as we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We know that a balanced world with no bias is a better one.
Sonia Bashir Kabir is an impact Investor & Tech Entrepreneur. She has recently served as the Managing Director for Microsoft Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Laos.