Tech is empowering women, and it's great for business

Woman working in a microchip factory.
Woman working in a microchip factory.

For working women everywhere — whether on an assembly line or in front of a computer — the question "how does she do it all?" easily can trigger eye rolls. Working women continue to carry a disproportionate burden in comparison to men because, more often, they are responsible for both their jobs and being the primary family caregivers. However, the technology sector can play a significant role in empowering women both in the workplace and at home — and businesses stand to benefit if these efforts are pursued strategically.

Last year, we at BSR published a report, "Building Effective Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategies," encouraging companies to apply a holistic and integrated approach in empowering women. While the report highlights eight building blocks for such an approach, ICT companies can focus on two areas to support both women climbing the corporate ladder in Silicon Valley and in an electronics factory in Bangalore, as well as female consumers of ICT products and services.

Transparent reporting and commitments 

As in other sectors, women in the technology field are paid less than men and have lower representation in senior roles. Men in U.S. tech companies typically make 10 percent more than their female counterparts — a smaller gap compared to other industries but still far from equal (PDF). Because of employment discrimination in terms of both compensation and employment opportunities, women are some of the lowest-paid workers in the electronics manufacturing supply chain and often work in difficult conditions, including long hours, potential exposure to health hazards, limited professional development opportunities and vulnerability to human rights abuses.

In regard to senior leadership, women make up 10 percent of executives within the Silicon Valley 150 (the Bay Area's top tech companies), compared to 20 percent of leaders for companies in the S&P 150. With talent pipeline shortages in the tech industry expected to reach an estimated 1.4 million by 2020, women are essential to ensuring the industry continues to meet rising demands for its services.

Strengthening transparency in reporting on pay equity and gender diversity in leadership roles is an important step toward improving equitable employment opportunities at ICT companies. For example, Salesforce conducted a salary review of its 17,000 employees, making subsequent pay adjustments where deemed appropriate, and has invested nearly $3 million to eliminate statistically significant differences in pay.

Intel publicly has disclosed diversity numbers for more than a decade. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Symantec and several other leading ICT companies have begun doing so as well, helping companies set and publicly work toward leadership diversity goals.

Jabil has seen improved productivity in its supply chain after implementing HERproject, BSR’s onsite training program that empowers female factory workers through health and financial training. Benefits to the business (PDF) include increased operational efficiency, higher retention and improved worker-management relations. ICT companies have made public commitments to gender equality by signing the President’s Equal Pay Pledge, and nearly 90 of the 1,368 CEO signatories to the Women’s Empowerment Principles belong to those in the technology sector.

Innovative products and services for all

ICT companies can offer products and services that all industries and consumers can use to support women’s empowerment efforts and the work-life challenges that women disproportionately face.

ICT platforms can support employee engagement through interactive training programs and services related to gender equality or discrimination. When these platforms are publicized, as Google did with its unconscious-bias materials, non-tech companies can use the material for their own purposes.

LinkedIn is drawing on user data to provide insight into gender equality across every industry and is researching gender differences in how users promote themselves in personal profiles.

ICT products can increase access to health and finance. Electronic or mobile healthcare can empower women worldwide to take charge of their health and wellness, learn important health knowledge and access health services — notably, for reproductive health. In China, BSR’s HERhealth mobile app provides workers with convenient access to educational materials so that they can learn about general and sexual health and share this knowledge with their friends and family members.

Online outsourcing, the business practice of contracting third-party providers (often overseas) to supply products or services that are delivered over the internet, allows women around the world access to digital jobs and more opportunities to earn a living. Through this model, Samasource has employed more than 8,000 people in Haiti, India, Kenya and Uganda.

Improved conference-call software and internet access can enable flexible work schedules. The Women and the Web Alliance (which grew out of Intel’s She Will Connect program) seeks to address the internet gender gap by bringing more than 600,000 young women online in Nigeria and Kenya in the next three years.

There is more work to be done within the ICT industry to advance gender equality, but also many avenues that ICT companies can explore to help other sectors and their consumers use digital resources to advance women as skilled professionals and empowered individuals. Companies can start by making public disclosures and commitments, then assess how their practices and business strategy can improve women’s empowerment efforts for both their female workforce and consumer base.

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