Digital fluency can accelerate transition to gender parity

08 March 2016

Improving digital fluency among women improves gender equality. According to Accenture, the US and the Netherlands have the highest technology fluency and best levels of digital education among its women – the two, the consultancy believes, are correlated.

The gender gap, much like the board gap, remains a key issue for those seeking equality and business performance alike. Accenture, in a broad study of almost 5,000 women across the globe, sought to identify how digital fluency – as the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective – impacts long term market dynamics.

The gender gap at work can be more rapidly reduced, claims the firm, by linking the issue with digital fluency. If women improved their digital fluency, particularly in developing countries, then, the consultancy claims, the divide between men and women would more rapidly reduce – with parity reached 25 years earlier in developed countries, and 40 years earlier in developing countries. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, gender parity could add a staggering $28 trillion extra to world GDP by 2025, with a more achievable ‘best-in-region’ practice likely to add $12 trillion.

The level of education among women was found to be the highest in countries where they also have high digital fluency. The report finds that women tend to be better educated than men, and seem to be better at leveraging digital through their education. The firm’s analysis further shows that when men and women have the same level of digital fluency, women have achieved a higher rate of education.

The research notes however that men tend, on average, to use digital technologies slightly more often than women: 76% of men versus 72% of women. Millennial men use digital channels at the even higher rate of 80%, and millennial women at 75%. The study also found that men are more proactive than women in learning new digital skills: 52% of men versus 45% of women say they’re continuously learning new digital skills.

For the countries investigated, the consultancy ranked the overall digital fluency of respondents. Top of the ranking is the US, where women have relatively strong digital fluency, education and employment opportunities, and very good job advancement opportunities. The second ranked country in the Netherlands – Dutch women are the most digitally fluent and are the world’s most educated. Employment opportunities too are abound in the Netherlands for women, although their chances of progression are somewhat limited. Australia comes in third, with strong education, employment and advancement opportunities. The UK makes the top five, with high digital fluency, relatively strong education, and job opportunities.

The research highlights however that there may be a bright spot for women that seek to re-enter the workforce. The research asked the non-working women how they could be encouraged to participate in the workforce. 58% of non-working women said that working from home, part or full-time, would help them find work, while 60% said that more flexible hours would help them find work. The aspiration to be an entrepreneur too is highlighted as a possible avenue for some women to participate in the workforce, with the consultancy claiming it could help 60% return to work.

According to Pierre Nanterme, Accenture’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer: “Women represent an untapped talent pool that can help fill the gap between the skills needed to stay competitive and the talent available. There is a clear opportunity for governments and businesses to collaborate on efforts that will empower more women with digital skills – and accelerate gender equality in the workforce.