I recently came across a hopeful story for women and businesses internationally.
It’s a story about the power of digital to disrupt the status quo — in this case the long-standing inequality between men and women in the workplace.
A recent Accenture study reported some fascinating statistics about the connection between digital fluency — the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected, and effective — and gender equality in the workplace.
I spoke with Julie Sweet, group chief executive of Accenture North America, about what this study means for women and for businesses, and what surprised her most about where we are today with gender equality.
1. Digital fluency can close the gender gap In the workplace
“We called our research Getting to Equal — How Digital is Helping to Close the Gender Gap at Work ,” Sweet said, “And at its heart we found that when men and women have the same level of digital fluency, women are better at using their digital skills to gain more education and find work.”
What this means is that digital fluency has huge potential to help create real gender equality in the workplace over time. As defined by the study, that’s a workplace where men and women are equal when it comes to what they achieve in education, in their ability to find work, and to advance at work.
2. Digital fluency can help nations reach workplace gender equality decades sooner than they normally would
One of the most remarkable findings to come out of the study is how quickly digital can accelerate gender equality in the workplace. The study found that if businesses and governments collaborate to help and train women to become more digitally fluent, they can potentially close the workplace gender gap in 25 years in developed countries versus 50 years at the current pace.
“It’s important to reflect upon how far we’ve come in achieving gender equality in the workplace,” Sweet said, “and how we could move faster toward even greater goals.”
3. This doesn’t mean women have to learn how to code or become computer scientists
“Digital fluency is about basic skills,” Sweet said. “In our study we looked at how men and women use digital in their everyday life, the number of devices they’re on, and their purpose in using them.” In fact, the skills women need to become digitally fluent are all well within reach.
Sweet gave a few examples: Women could sign up for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses); use social media to grow their business networks; or enroll in training offered by their employers. Simply by mastering the basics of digital, and honing those skills over time, they can gain a critical edge in the workplace.
4. Digital fluency is helping today’s women better manage their time and become more productive
Digital fluency enables greater work flexibility — an amenity that workers value and many companies are now providing. “While men and women alike are liberated by the balance that work flexibility affords,” Sweet said, “women appear to derive greater value from it.”
In the study almost half of the working women who were surveyed said they used digital to work from home and access job opportunities and 41 percent said digital helped them balance their personal and professional lives.
5. Our daughters’ workplace will be a much more equal place
Perhaps most encouraging about the survey Accenture conducted through its study is that nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of both the men and women said that “the digital world will empower our daughters.”
“Our study comes at a critical time,” said Sweet, “because companies and governments face a deepening skills gap between the talent they need to stay competitive and the people available to them.”
What governments and businesses can do in the short term is simply to raise awareness that basic digital skills are an important part of preparing and advancing in the workplace, particularly for women. And because women are underrepresented in the global workforce, they are a significant source of untapped talent. “Digitally fluent women can help companies and governments close this skills gap,” Sweet said.
Clearly, if we take the results of Accenture’s study to heart, the changes we are seeing in women’s lives as a result of digital fluency are here to stay — and will become more pronounced with future generations.