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The G20 and the Digital Gender Divide:
Closing the Gender Gap in ICT Skill Development

Heidi Ullrich, PhD
June 7, 2017

The global economy is intricately linked to digitalization and information and communication technologies (ICT). This trend will continue to expand exponentially in the future as the digital revolution continues its growth in new areas of technology such as nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. However, across the G20, the digital gender divide threatens to exclude women and girls from taking part in this vital part of the global economy.

"Skills for a Digital World," the 2016 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), describes the extent of the digital gender divide. As the report shows, the gender gap for ICT specialists is extreme across the G20. Although 5.5% of males in the labour force of OECD countries are ICT specialists, the number drops significantly for females with only 1.4%.  The report highlights the likely shortage of ICT professionals over the next decade. Given the interdependence of ICT and the global economy, this shortfall has significant implications for inclusive, sustainable global economic growth and development.

The G20 recognizes the importance of ensuring that all citizens have the necessary skills to participate fully in the digital global economy of the future. Under China's 2016 G20 presidency, the leaders established the G20 Task Force on the Digital Economy, which included recognition on the need for digital inclusion.

In the run-up to the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7-8 July 2017, the G20 Digital Economy Ministers issued a declaration on "Shaping Digitalization for an Interconnected World" following their first ever meeting on 6-7 April 2017 in Düsseldorf. Of note, they stated:

Half the population of the planet are women yet 250 million fewer women than men are online today. Taking this into consideration, we intend to promote action to help bridge the digital gender divide and help support the equitable participation of women and girls in the digital economy. The G20 Ministers responsible for the digital economy welcome the efforts made by the G20 Development Working Group and the initiative #eSkills4girls to help improve digital skills and employment perspectives for girls and women in emerging and developing countries. We also bear in mind the importance of initiatives to digitally include other underrepresented or disadvantaged groups.

The OECD, a partner of the G20, has developed two key programs that provide G20 governments with a strong framework for bridging the gender divide. The first is the Going Digital program that includes three pillars: 1) An integrated policy framework; 2) specific policy issues related to the digital economy; and 3) analysis of the challenges related to digital transformation, including ways to ensure digitalization provides benefits for all of society.

The second is the OECD Skills Strategy that also consists of three pillars: 1) the development of relevant skills; 2) ensuring sufficient supply of skills and 3) implementing skills in an effective manner. However, despite the work of the G20 and OECD in developing comprehensive policies to bridge the digital gender divide, ultimately it is up to society, to parents and educators, to encourage girls to embrace the new technologies and gain the confidence and skills needed to fully participate in the global digital economy.

Heidi UllrichHeidi Ullrich, PhD, is Vice President for Policy Development and At-Large Relations at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). She has lectured and written extensively on G7 activities and summitry as a member of the University of Toronto G7 and G20 Research Groups. This blog is written in her personal capacity.

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