Closing Digital Divide Means Achieving More Gender Parity At Work, Some Say

Broadband access can bring more gender equity in the workplace, experts say.

Closing Digital Divide Means Achieving More Gender Parity At Work, Some Say
Screenshot from Benton Institute event

July 8, 2021 — Closing the digital divide can mean an important step toward achieving gender equity in the workplace, said Joi Chaney, executive director of the National Urban League Washington Bureau during a Benton Institute event last month.

“One of the ways we [close the gender wage gap] is by women having greater flexibility, and when they’re able to do their jobs at different times of day, they can wear all of their hats and continue to get the job done,” Chaney said. “That is enabled when they’re able to work from home. It is enabled when they are able to have a medical appointment via telehealth.”

Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks pointed to the importance of dependable internet access in people’s lives during the pandemic. “COVID-19 didn’t just tell us the digital divide was unfair and cruel — it’s a fundamental threat to our public health and our economic security,” he said.

Broadband access brings the opportunity for a much wider and broader reach to the digital ecosystem that women could not have without a digital connection, said Maria Cardona, principal at Dewey Square Group.

Cardona pointed to the importance of building programs that support entrepreneurship, promote digital literacy and improve technology access for marginalized communities such as women. Underprivileged women, especially refugees, often don’t have the digital literacy or access to the technology necessary to succeed in an increasingly digitized world, she said.

“This is about humanity,” Chaney said. “When we have access to broadband, we have access to our ability to live the American dream.”

Three major groups have experienced some of the largest challenges: working mothers, women in senior management positions and Black women.

Telework allows more work flexibility

At the beginning of 2020, the representation of women in corporate America was trending upward with an increase of 5 percent of women in senior positions, according to McKinsey and Company. The pandemic had a near-immediate negative effect on women’s employment. One in four women reportedly considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers, as opposed to one in five men. One of the primary reasons cited was a lack of flexibility.

With the growing popularity of teleworking, panelists argued that broadband access allows all working individuals, and women in particular, the flexibility they need to balance work and their other responsibilities in order to remain in the workforce.

Many experts have noted the potential global economic benefits of investing in broadband infrastructure to connect more women. In the world’s least developed countries, women are 32.9% less likely to have internet access than men.

Intel announced in its ‘Women and the Web’ report that “if 600 million more women are connected to the internet in 3 years, this would translate to a rise in global GDP of between US $13 billion and $18 billion.”

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