By Seraina Kull
On the 23rd of November, EQUALS-EU and the Graduate Institute’s Technology and Security Initiative (TechSec) collaborated in the hosting of a panel discussion on Gender Equitable Futures in Technology. Silvia Ecclesia moderated the event and guided the speakers through the discussion. Tamara Dancheva (International Relations Manager at GSMA), Prof. Amandeep Singh Gill (Project Director and CEO of I-DAIR), and Aleksandra Urman (Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Zurich’s Social Computing Group) spoke on issues ranging from gender biases in web search results and taking into account societal values and platform-specific attributes in online content regulation to the history of women in computer science. A digital gender gap remains globally, with very few women and other minorities designing digital technologies. Despite the broad range of discussion, the panellists agreed on some actions we can take to reduce the digital gender gap.
Education has been identified as one of the fields with a potential for reducing this gap. Access to education for girls and women creates a foundation, but an updated curriculum for STEM majors is just as important. Prof. Gill explained that one effective way to bridge the digital gender gap is to address the underlying causes for biases by breaking down social conditioning in education, ranging from how to introduce mathematics to schoolchildren to fostering a transdisciplinary approach in engineering school. Alexandra Urman added that teaching ethics in computer science is crucial to give future technology developers the tools to avoid perpetuating biases and stereotypes. Today, only a few universities include ethics in their computer science curriculum, even though AI developed on a biased dataset can lead to dangerous outcomes for underrepresented groups (Gill).
Apart from updating the curriculum, purposefully introducing diversity can reduce the risk of biased technologies. This can mean diversity in datasets, but also diversity in technology leadership. In fact, one important factor for creating a more equitable future is for women to have role models to look up to. Among other issues like a hostile work environment and stereotyping, a lack of role models is an often-cited reason for women to quit their tech jobs (Urman). Hence, supporting women to not only take up leadership roles but to stay in top-level positions is crucial. And as diversity alone does not lead to inclusivity, women’s inputs need to be heard and implemented in devising technology (Dancheva). Tamara Dancheva brought up an important argument to incentivise the private sector to foster inclusivity: As an estimated 90% of future jobs will require digital skills, we simply cannot afford to leave women behind. The economic argument to include women in the workforce is strong. To achieve this, changes in education and the work environment towards attracting women and keeping them employed are needed. However, closing the digital gender gap requires a holistic approach, focusing on both gender equality and social norms.
 The panel participants acknowledged the limitation of discussing binary gender relations. One panellist explained that research still overwhelmingly only differentiates between men and women (Urman). Additionally, only addressing gender divides is not enough to create true inclusivity.
Seraina Kull is a board member and content creator for the Technology and Security Initiative at the Graduate Institute. LinkedIn.