How to improve gender equality through digital fluency

HR executives need to focus on lifting digital skills to help accelerate gender parity and improve overall organisational capability

“Digital fluency” is a critical enabler of gender equality in the workplace, according to a new report, which found that HR executives need to focus on lifting digital skills to help accelerate gender parity and improve overall organisational capability.

If organisations are able to double the pace at which women become digitally fluent, gender equality in the workplace could be reached by 2040 in developed countries, which is 25 years faster than the current pace, according to the report.

“The more digital fluency in the workplace, the greater the growth potential for women,” said Jordan Griffiths – Australia & New Zealand inclusion & diversity lead for Accenture, which conducted the report.

As today’s workforce becomes more and more “liquid”, where more workers are transient and less tied to the ideals of having a standard full-time job, Griffiths said HR executives need to “operationalise” workplace flexibility as the key driver to closing the gender gap.

“Today, it’s not just new mothers who want part-time work or leave for their young families – families come in all shapes and sizes,” he said.

“The needs are changing and so is the nature of the workforce, where there are more and more freelancers, casual workers and flexible arrangements – both men and women.

“High performing organisations need to continually adjust and reflect these more fluid workforce expectations.”

Education also continues to be the key enabler of empowerment for women in the workplace, and the report found that in many countries, women are already better educated than their male counterparts, but often lack the right awareness and guidance on how best to leverage their educational backgrounds to achieve career growth and advancement.

“Make sure you speak to lay down your expectations to your supervisor and they understand your career aspirations”

Although digital fluency helps women advance in their careers, its impact has not closed the gender gap among executives – or extended to pay equality.

Men are still, by far, the dominant earners by household for all three generations, however, this will change as more millennial women and digital natives move into management.

For example, 38 percent of millennial and gen X women aspire to be in leadership positions in Australia.

Further, more men than women report using digital to prepare for and find work (77 percent and 71 percent, respectively), however, when women and men have the same level of digital proficiency, women are better at leveraging it to find work.

The research report, which took in more than 4900 women and men across 31 countries, found that Australia is the third most digitally fluent country among all countries surveyed.

Australia is also number one when it comes to education – Australian women did much better than their male counterparts in using digital to secure and improve educational opportunities.

Additionally, Australia ranks second when it comes to digital’s influence on women’s advancement at work; only one country had a higher score for women’s advancement (the United States).

“There are many ways to narrow the gender gap in the workplace, but digital is a particularly powerful avenue,” said Griffiths.

“Although gender equality will not happen overnight, investments made in building women’s digital skills – through education, training and on-the-job learning – will help speed their progress at every career stage.”

The research also found that 61 per cent of women in developed countries wanted to start a new business in the last five years, which indicates that women have just as much entrepreneurial spirit and ambition as their male counterparts.

“However, they are let down by a lack of mentorship, awareness and leadership support, so programs like ‘women in leadership’ and other mentoring programs can lessen the divide over time,” he said.

“How can you attract the right female candidates with the rights skills if you lack them yourself?”

HR can play an “incredibly powerful” role by fostering a culture of inclusion and equality in the workplace, said Griffiths, who noted that other research has shown increased diversity leads to increased innovation as people with different backgrounds and ideas come together to collaborate.

“HR executives must set and govern a top-down approach to gender equality that seeks a mandate for business leadership sponsorship, execution of cultural training programs and diversity education opportunities that bring to light the key barriers hindering equality in their workplace,” he said.

“The onus needs to be on male leaders to change the game and drive equality enhancements.

“Today’s HR organisation also needs to embrace digital in the workplace, including programs to enhance digitally fluency, the role of innovation and entrepreneurship, flexible work arrangements, different career models and checking that equality across pay, promotions and the recruitment cycle.”

As a result, Griffiths said HR itself needs to be more digitally fluent, to speak the language of technology, and understand the evolution of digital channels, such as the impact on everyday tasks such as recruitment and managing the corporate culture through internal collaboration tools.

“After all, how can you attract the right female candidates with the rights skills if you lack them yourself?” said Griffiths, who explained that HR professionals need to make sure that they are at forefront of digital change in the workplace and lead some of these changes.

“It is important to keep up to date with the new technologies, digital channels and mediums that your employees are working with and interested in, so you can attract and retain the right talent for your workplace whilst growing your own digital acumen,” he said.

“Secondly, as a HR professional it is important to make sure that you’re proactively asking for the same opportunities you see your male colleagues being afforded.”

It’s not educational background, skills or capabilities that are holding women back, but rather their lack of confidence, Griffiths added.

“Often you’re more qualified, so make sure you speak to lay down your expectations to your supervisor and they understand your career aspirations,” he said.

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