The Gender Digital Divide: Why Bridging the Divide is Critical to Our Future

October 11, 2021

Girls are vibrant, curious and full of ideas. They know how to create, and they know how to lead. And, most of them know from a very young age that they have important contributions to make to the world around them.

But as the digital revolution accelerates across the globe, girls are facing the same – if not more – barriers online as they do offline. These barriers, such as gender-related stereotypes, unrealistic societal expectations, gendered cyber threats and lack of support from key influencers, are limiting their participation in technology and stifling their ability to contribute to the design of our digital world. This phenomenon is what has come to be known as the Gender Digital Divide.

The digital divide refers to the gap between those with relatively easy access to modern technologies and those without. Geographic restrictions and socioeconomic factors are often to blame for these inequalities. But, the gender digital divide takes this notion a step further, recognizing that girls, in particular, can face significantly more barriers than boys accessing and using digital technologies. The notion also acknowledges that technology, and technology-related education and careers, is hardwired in gender biases. While this gap is most prominent in the world’s least developed countries, it is still very much a reality here in Canada.

Quick Stats:

  • Only 45.6% of households in rural communities in Canada have access to unlimited broadband connection ( CRTC, 2021)
  • Only 13% of tech companies’ executive teams are women, while 53% have no female executives at all (PWC, 2021)
  • Over 50% of boys are very or extremely interested in careers involving coding or programming, but only 27% of girls express the same interest (Actua, 2018)
  • Only 22% of Artificial Intelligence (AI) professionals globally are women (UNICEF, 2021)

Why is it critical we bridge the divide?

Digital literacy is no longer a nice to have but a need to have.

New technologies and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are radically transforming the way we learn, work and socialize. Access to basic technologies like computers and the internet are no longer optional but critical for education, jobs and social inclusion. However, increased access is merely a starting point. For girls and young women to thrive, they must also have the digital literacy to confidently explore, interact and create technology.

Diversity equals innovation.

Research from leading management consulting firms, such as McKinsey and Company, shows that gender diversity – all diversity – is a key ingredient in the recipe for a prosperous and thriving economy. That’s because diversity leads to innovation, and innovation leads to growth. Without gender diversity, we miss out on varying perspectives, ideas and experiences of girls and young women and fail to create products and services that meet their unique needs and realities.

Technology is a powerful tool for social change.

Digital technologies, such as social media, can be powerful tools for girls and young women to advocate for and lead change within their communities and beyond. Studies have shown that access to, and the ability to understand and use technologies, can positively impact women’s ability to express their ideas and options, connect with peers and unlock education and career opportunities (UN Women’s Watch, 2020).

How do we bridge the divide?

Create, deliver and support programs that build technology and digital skills among girls and young women.

Girls need more opportunities to build digital skills and confidence – in and outside of school. We know the gender gap widens as a girl advances on her pathway to a career. Programs that engage girls early and often, and offer girls a safe place to design, build, experiment and explore, can increase the likelihood that they will pursue technology-related careers and education. Actua’s National Girls Program, for example, engages girls in high-impact, all-girl programs. These programs are led by female instructors, role models and mentors who break down existing stereotypes so more girls can see themselves reflected in STEM.

Engage girls and young women in technology design.

If we’re going to create technologies for girls and young women to use, we need to ensure they’re designed with them or by them. This is also true about STEM education. When girls can take an active role in shaping their education, they can become more confident, capable and informed leaders. You can read more about girl-led content and why it matters here.

Share stories that inspire.

Girls need to see themselves reflected in technology and technology-related education and careers. That’s why role models and success stories are essential. They can educate us and inspire us to pursue avenues we never thought possible. Actua recently recognized a handful of women who have been breaking down barriers and paving the way for young women and girls in STEM. You can read their stories here.

Create safe environments.

For girls and young women to engage with technology, they must feel empowered to do so in innovative, healthy and safe ways. Building this understanding is the key aim of Actua’s Engage. Empower. Connect. (E2C) Cyber Smart project. The project aims to teach youth how to be mindful and proactive about online safety by understanding the tools, processes and practices to stay safe online and uphold respect and inclusion through “netiquette”. You can learn more about our E2C project here.