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Advent of the digital age: towards more equality ?

Digital technologies have deeply transformed the way we both communicate and work. Not only have they led to a major technological change, but also to a social one : we will try to highlight the reasons why in this article.

Many elements drive our modern societies towards greater flexibility in the organization of work: A wild and permanent access to information, a more collaborative managerial culture, and of course an eased access to a professional network…

I began to wonder whether these evolutions actually offer the same benefits to all of us, regardless of our gender, age or social class. Has the digital world witnessed a decrease in gender inequalities in the work place? If so, does this apply to all careers and positions? Are there significant differences between geographic areas when it comes to the impact of digital in the work place?

To look for answers to these questions and dig further into the subject, I went to the JFD 2017. You can find more about this event by reading my previous article “LA JOURNÉE DE LA FEMME DIGITALE 2017”

I found out that JFD, Numa and Rolland Berger joined forces to provide an international study in “digital equality”. The study was conducted between October and December 2016 and was based on an online survey sent to 3000 people in more than 60 countries.

The report was built around 3 main topics, echoing stages of evolution of one’s professional life:

  1. How women rely on digital technologies at the beginning of their career?
  2. How digital technologies can support women career evolution? Is it a source of opportunity for career development?
  3. How digital helps correcting gender bias while accessing a leading position?

You will find below a summary of the most significant highlights revealed in this interesting study:

Beginning a career

1.  What’s a digital woman? 

The very first question the survey tried to answer was what best defines a digital woman?

The results were split between two views: the technological/ industrial view and the mindset/ cultural view. For 40% of the respondents, a digital woman is one that uses digital tools on a daily basis.

Surprisingly, even if most participants believe there is no difference between a digital woman and a digital man, qualitative comments from women indicate that some gender stereotypes unfortunately also exist in the digital world:

For women, “digital” tends to refer to technical skills when it is applied to a man, while it relates more to communication, collaboration, and/or empathy when it comes to a woman.

2.   Digital, a tool offering vast opportunities for women to get started: 

There is a consensus around the fact that women have more commitments and responsibilities than men when it come to the family sphere. They are mostly in charge of child care and household chores.

So in the past, women were more concerned with having a balanced conciliation between work and personal life, due to the inflexibility of their hours. This could sometimes drive them to having to take a leave, or to be late at work, which can affect one’s morale.

Comments in the study show that the digital transition has definitively eased the path for women in the workplace by achieving a better balance in work life, having an easy access to information and enabling the establishment and development of networks.

As far as this topic is concerned, the professional category and the geographic areas of the respondents are significant. The use of digital tools is conditioned by cultural, social or economic factors. The greater the digital maturity of a country is, the more participants perceive it as a way to bypass traditional obstacles women face in the workplace.

3. …Gender still matters!

The survey focused on entrepreneurship in a woman’s life, to understand gender matters in entrepreneurship.

Even if they are more successful than men, women are still a minority in the digital entrepreneurial sphere.

Statistics say it best:

  • Germany and Spain are lagging behind the US and France, with less than one out of six woman entrepreneur
  • The Harvard Business Review recently argued that in the US 63% of female-founded companies outperformed male-founded startups in terms of market valuation growth, starting from first round investments.

4.   Should women’s mindset have to change?

When asked if the startups or digital projects launched by women are different to those launched by men, 72% of women answered yes, while only 56% of men agreed.

Once again, there are differences between regions and stages of life, and it’s for instance interesting to see that women consider as a central issue the fact of getting support from people around them : a 30-year-old man will be less sensitive to the support received from his friends, familly and colleagues than a 30-year-old woman.

Even if they see digital assets as a key success factor, women tend to lack resources more often than men. More focused on maintaining the work/family balance, they do not develop their network out of work. They end up suffering from a deficiency in coaching and mentoring access as in developing a network that can help them and support them during their project.

Career development

Participants agreed that the digital ecosystem transforms work and organizations. Its main benefits come from the greater flexibility, openness and horizontality of the ways of working it promotes. This creates new career opportunities for all employees and for women. Nonetheless, this is only a first step : digital tools can’t stand on their own.

Digital technologies need to truly become a new professional playground for women to explore, rather than being seen as a resource to get around rigidities of work. In order to do that, women need to exceed the illegitimacy syndrome they suffer from and take opportunities that are available to them, without any hesitation. As David Lacombe says, “They must be encouraged to fully assume their prerogatives in companies. They need to be pushed beyond their limits, by role models, testimonies and exemplarity”.

Even if a majority of people think that women can definitely count on digital to progress in their career, we know that promoting gender equality in the workplace cannot rely solely on goodwill.

Men and women agree that gender equality should be a corporate priority, yet they do not believe in it to the same degree, especially when they are asked to monitor the subject with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

The implementation of active policies to recruit, promote and retain women in the most promising sectors seems essential to promote genuine professional equality.

The number of men in favour of gender equality KPIs is lower, but the majority (60%) is in favor of KPI implementation. 37% of women and 29% of men think KPIs should primarily monitor internal promotions and performance review, rather than employee attitude.

Accessing a leading position

Divergent viewpoints arise when asked about C- level positions. This is where the glass ceiling painfully hits: although men do not agree, women still de not feel like they are getting equal access to top management position opportunities.

64% of women think their gender has probably or certainly inhibited their professional success, while at the same they are more confident and optimistic than their male colleagues about the future and the positive impact technology will have on their career.

In general, 74% of people believe that digital technologies will positively contribute to greater success, but perhaps women believe in this more than men as they are aware that they still have a long way to go before benefiting from equal opportunities.

Finally, the study highlights two important realities : the digital woman is an obvious reality, but so are gender stereotypes.

Women should break their own fears and conquer sectors in which they may feel less legitimate. They should not limit themselves to domains where they already have professional opportunities… Women need to invest more in what is seen as the technical dimension of digital: coding, computer science, artificial intelligence, etc.

As Guy Mamou-Mani, CEO of Open Group and former President of Syntec Numérique says, “Quotas are only a part of the solution to more gender equality in the workplace: Women also need to change their own minds! “

The most digitally mature people (thanks to where they live, where they studied, or what position they hold in companies) are convinced of their value. They are the most confident in the opportunities offered by digital technologies, and their importance in achieving gender equality. Therefore, they are the ones who benefit most from it.

In my opinion, the Digital world is not separated from the analogue world. It is closely connected to our cultures and views of the world. Our collective beliefs and social codes influence how we use it and what we do with it.

Consequently, it’s no big secret that in order to bring more women into the digital industry we need more targeted education:  schools, universities, professional education. Also, companies must of course take action so that women can participate in the digital revolution, on equal terms with men.

Let’s discuss it!

(You can find more about the result of the study and its methodology following this link)

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