The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in a report published earlier this year, raised the necessity for the Fourth Industrial R (4IR) to be gender inclusive.
Data obtained for the report, published in February to mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, showed that despite a shortage of skills in most of the technological fields, women still accounted for only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of computer science and informatics graduates across the globe.
In a chapter on gender in science, titled, To be Smart the Digital Revolution will Need to be Inclusive, provided statistics on the global share of women among engineering graduates. In First-World countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States of America (US), it fluctuated between 16% and 20%. Eastern Countries such as Japan and the Republic of Korea showed the total average of female science graduates to be between 14% and 20% respectively. The US and Korea showed the highest incidence, both just over 20%.
The report made it clear that no definite regional pattern could be pinpointed with wide disparities found among countries of the same region.
Some of the highest proportions of female engineering graduates were found in the Arab States, 48.5% in Algeria, Morocco (42.2%), Oman (43.2%), Syria (43.9%) and Tunisia (44.2%). In Latin America women accounted for 41.7% of engineering graduates, in Cuba, Peru and Uruguay , the averages were also much higher than in First-World countries, between 47.5% and 45.9%.
Even today, in the 21st century, women and girls are being side-lined in science-related fields due to their gender. Women need to know that they have a place in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and that they have a right to share in scientific progress – Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General
The chapter also showed how women were not fully benefitting from employment in cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence where only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman. This is according to an earlier study by the World Economic Forum on the Global Gender Gap.
The UNESCO report showed that women founders of start-ups still struggled to access finance and in large tech companies remained underrepresented in both leadership and technical positions. The reasons for leaving the technical field were often cited as poor career prospects. However, good news is that corporate attitudes towards women are evolving as studies link investor confidence and greater profit margins to a diverse workforce.
As the impact of artificial intelligence on societal priorities continues to grow, the underrepresentation of women’s contribution to research and development meant that their needs and perspectives were likely to be overlooked when it came to designing of products impacting our daily lives, such as smartphone applications.
The UN report also found that the glass ceiling remained an obstacle to women’s careers in academia, despite some progress. Globally, women have achieved numerical parity (45–55%) at the bachelor’s and master’s levels of study and are on the cusp at PhD level (44%), according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
The gender gap widens as women progress in their academic careers with lower participation at each successive rung of the ladder from doctoral student to assistant professor to director of research or full professor.
Finally, it was found that female researchers tended to have shorter, less well-paid careers. Their work is underrepresented in high-profile journals and they are often passed over for promotion. Women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues and despite representing 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of members of national science academies are women.