Technology Salon

Washington DC

Sponsored by

a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

How to Walk the Talk of Female Representation in ICT4D

women in tech

The digital development field has consistently focused on improving female access to technology and related services across low- and middle-income countries. With over 250 million more women owning a mobile phone as compared to 2014, there has been considerable progress.

Yet, the importance of female representation in leadership has become even clearer. A recent study indicated that female-led countries fared better against coronavirus. Within the workplace, increased female representation in leadership roles results in increased profit, and senior-level women are more likely to embrace employee-friendly policies and programs as well as champion racial and gender diversity.

During our recent Technology Salon asking, “Are We Walking the Talk of Female Representation in ICT4D?,” we had a lively, multi-faceted virtual discussion on how to increase gender representation and inclusion in leadership within our own organizations. Our session was informed by five lead discussants who spanned the globe:

Let’s Talk About What We Know

With the ability to talk and chat live through a virtual environment, a plethora of books, articles, and resources were shared continuously through the session! Participants brought a wealth of knowledge including the following: 

It was emphasized that we have methodologies and proven best practices that we regularly employ in the field to increase women’s participation in our programs. Now, it is time for us to apply those to our own organizations. 

Achieving Systemic Change Through Intentionality

But how do we do that? Through intentionality. It’s not enough to recognize the divide, but rather we must prioritize actively closing the gender gap, including engaging male colleagues more effectively in in the process.

This means being more intentional about devoting time to increasing gender-sensitive approaches to our work and organizations, especially amidst busy schedules and competing priorities. It also means connecting high-level organizational goals to professional development and work plans to mainstream gender by increasing individual ownership among male and female employees alike.

 The notion of intersectionality was also highlighted. It has been documented that while men and women enter the workforce in equal numbers that there is a significant drop off in women along the path to executive leadership with an even bigger drop off for women of color and Latinas. In addressing gender, it is not enough to address gender alone without also addressing other forms of discrimination like race, disability, and sexual identity.

Alongside this, the discussants raised the need for systemic change. Systemic processes can help discern where organizations are, identify goals, set plans, and then monitor progress against them. Ethiopia was a great example of implementing reforms to increase female representation throughout the government.

For instance, in 2018, it cut the number of ministries from 28 to 20 and named 10 women among the newly appointed Ministers. Strategies such as providing fellowships to women in rural areas to increase their skills are also being implemented to ensure a pipeline of women for engagement at all levels of the workforce and especially in leadership roles.

Engaging Everyone

How do we get more men involved? For our session, we had 20% male representation, enabling us to discuss this very question. In addition to intentionality as discussed above, there are other factors at play.

First, being aware of the language used. For instance, our session highlighted increasing female representation rather than gender parity. Perhaps this feels less welcoming?

Second, we must make the economic case (and in development, the social returns on investment case) because numbers are compelling and often drive management decisions. Facts like company profits and share performance can be close to 50 percent higher when women are well represented at the top, showing why this topic matters to us all.

Third, giving clear direction helps. It’s one thing to ask for increased engagement, but another to give very clear examples of how and where male colleagues can help.

The Power of Mentorship

When thinking about what we can do practically day to day, the notion of mentorship was raised repeatedly. How important this was to so many! Both informal and formal mentorship have their place. This includes having mentorship at an early age for girls, “shadow mentorship,” peer mentoring or support networks, and more.

In addition, it’s not just about female-led mentorship, but including men as well. This ensures a variety of viewpoints and a more rounded mentorship experience whether formal or not.

What’s Next?

It’s impossible to capture the many facets of the conversation we had, but it doesn’t need to stop here. This TechSalon is a contribution to a larger movement to address gender in digital health.

Catalyzed by a gender-focused panel at the Global Digital Health Forum, there has been a year-long effort within the Health Data Collaborative Digital Health & Interoperability Working Group spearheaded by a Small Working Group on Gender to develop principles and curate resources for organizations to help mainstream gender.

We invite all male and female leaders in digital health to join the Small Working Group on Gender and continue the conversation at this year’s Global Digital Health Forum to help further mobilize and advocate for the change that we all aspire to achieve.

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