Closing the gender gap: What needs to be done

Companies around the world are being urged to close the digital gender gap, especially after International Women’s Day. Although progress has been made, the gap remains in many countries, prompting questions about whether those in the industry are doing enough to address it.

The development of new technologies has created demand for specialized workers with specific training, but women still face more challenges than men in this field due to the persistent gender gap. As the world undergoes fundamental transformation, women’s role in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), needs to be reassessed.

According to a PwC report titled Women in Work, Insights from Middle East and North Africa, the UAE, KSA and Egypt already have national programmes to boost the number of working women. PwC’s research shows that 66% of all respondents believe that governments should intervene in private-sector companies and set targets for gender diversity. 

In the UAE, national policies include a draft law to ensure men and women receive equal pay. Another example is in Saudi Arabia, as part of Vision 2030, Saudi Government’s goal is to increase women’s participation in the workforce.

Hoda A. Alkhzaimi, President of Emirates Digital Association for Women, says there are many positive steps being taken.

“Across various countries in the region, there are initiatives aimed at breaking the toxic cycles that perpetuate the gender gap in the tech industry. These initiatives include mentorship and active championing and endorsement programs, active networking events, scholarships, and training programs specifically designed for women in lead tech initiatives. Some companies are also implementing policies that promote work-life balance and flexible work arrangements to support women in their careers,”  says Alkhzaimi.

However, to achieve gender-equitable participation in the industry a multi-faceted approach is required. 

“While equal pay is important as it’s a lead practice granted in governmental entities in the UAE for example, it’s not the only solution,” says Alkhzaimi. “Ensuring women have equal opportunities to advance into senior and leadership tech roles and increasing the number of women in leadership positions is crucial. We need more women CEOs and Women Board members and women chairpersons.”

Unconscious biases and a lack of female role models continue to be reasons why young women do not pursue a career in technology. The industry needs to work together to remove the prejudice that technology is a gender-specific field. Outreach to women is a critical way to increase the number of women in the field. 

“We need to build a framework to address gender washing which is a term used to describe the practice of organizations using pro-women messages and branding to promote their mission, without actually implementing meaningful changes to support gender equality. This can include using pro-female participation slogans or images in advertising campaigns or claiming to support gender diversity and inclusion without taking concrete actions to address gender inequality within the company or industry”. 

Gender washing can be seen as a form of exploitation that capitalizes on gender inclusion values and aspirations without actually supporting them. This can as well be a phenomenon of rising women’s communities.  It’s essential for organizations to back up their messaging with real action to create a culture of gender equality and inclusivity.

“To prevent gender washing, it’s important for entities to take authentic actions to address gender inequality and discrimination, rather than simply using pro-women language and imagery in addition to passive initiatives for marketing purposes. It is critical to conduct a thorough audit of the company’s policies and practices to identify areas of gender inequality. As well as implementing authentic efficient policies and practices that promote gender equality, such as equal pay, equal opportunities for advancement, and a culture of inclusivity and respect. Avoid using pro-women language or inclusivity language and imagery for marketing purposes without backing it up with real action,” the President of Emirates Digital Association for Women adds.