Because I am a woman, 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 if you educate girls, and if women become active participants in the labour force.
As we move into the Fourth 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 and largely excluding to women. The Fourth Industrial revolution, on the other hand, revolves 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 from 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 my organisation WomEng, which champions women in engineering. 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 the 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 Fourth 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, gender parity will be within reach.