Time to close Australia’s digital gender divide
Jess Wilson reflects on the impact of the digital divide on women for International Women's Day 2022.
“It made life much more bearable.”
That’s how Ann, a Be Connected program learner, describes the impact learning how to video call with her family had during lockdown.
This International Women’s Day, we have an opportunity to imagine a world where girls and women live in diverse, sustainable, equal and inclusive societies.
Digital technology is vital in achieving this vision, as long as everyone can connect to it confidently, safely, reliably and affordably.
Australian women on low incomes, unpaid carers, women with disability, First Nations women and older women are more likely to be digitally excluded. This means having lower skills, confidence, and less affordable access to the internet and relevant devices.
This digital gender divide is pervasive and surfaces in many different ways.
We know women are more likely than men to take career breaks when raising children or caring for family. But, the longer people are out of the workforce, the less confident they feel about their digital skills. The Australian Government has identified that improving digital capabilities is key to enabling women to return to work and fully participate in the digital economy. This has not been made enough of a funding priority in the Federal Budget.
We also know that in the emerging tech industry, just 29% of the workforce is made up of women. Increasing gender diversity in this sector alone could lead to the Australian economy growing on average by $1.8 billion per year for the next 20 years and create 5,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the female-dominated caring and education sectors are rapidly digitising, risking its workforce being left behind.
Women are more likely to report online safety concerns than men. 70% of people experiencing image-based abuse are women. Low digital literacy has been shown to be a key barrier for women when seeking support for technology-facilitated abuse. And, a new report has found that online abuse in women’s professional lives sees many taking a step back from advancing into leadership roles.
The pandemic has seen the risk of the digital divide deepening for many people, right when being connected became critically important. Current world events also illustrate how important it is for everyone to be equally online, able to access current and reliable information and support others to get the help they need.
But, amidst the pain and disruption these crises have caused, there are opportunities to create a more equal future.
“Where there is disruption, there is the potential to rebuild, reimagine, and create a radically better world. We can allow the coronavirus crisis to reinforce the worst impacts of the digital gender divide; or we can use the crisis to accelerate change, expand horizons, and get millions of girls and women online.”
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka & Plan International CEO
Closing the digital gender divide will have a real impact on women’s lives. It will future-proof careers. It will help mums keep their kids safe online. It will support women to get back into the workforce. And, it will see families like Ann’s stay connected.
Already many women across the country are taking action as digital mentors. But there is more to do.
It’s up to all of us to make this vision a reality.
Jess Wilson, CEO of Good Things Foundation Australia.
We’re looking for partners who share our goal of closing the digital gender divide to make this vision a reality. Get in touch if you are interested in getting involved.