UNESCO Report Highlights Gender Disparities in Tech

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) form the center of innovation and technology advancements, states the 2023 #HerEducationOurFuture fact sheet from UNESCO. However, women remain underrepresented in STEM careers, and the gap continues to widen.

“Gender equality is growing more distant,” said António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, in a recent general assembly speech. “On the current track, UN Women puts it 300 years away.” 

“Centuries of patriarchy, discrimination, and harmful stereotypes have created a huge gender gap in science and technology,” Guterres says. 

In this article, we’ll share global gender-related statistics, risks, and recommended actions from the UNESCO fact sheet.

Global Statistics

Women are underrepresented at all levels in the technology sector, the fact sheet says, but particularly so in leadership positions, “where they represent only 24 percent of professionals.”

Other statistics from a previous UNESCO publication include:

  • Women’s enrollment in information and communication technology (ICT)-related studies has declined in the EU since 2011, even as related job opportunities have increased dramatically.
  • In the United States, the percentage of female computer and information science majors has dropped steadily over the past 30 years, and today stands at just 18 percent, down from 37 percent in the mid-1980s.
  • Across G20 countries, just  seven percent of ICT patents are generated by women, and the global average is even lower at two percent.

Globally, in 2018, “only 28 percent of engineering and 40 percent of computer science graduates were women. In 2019, in 30 out of 121 countries, fewer than 20 percent of graduates in engineering were women,” according to the recent fact sheet.

Artificial Intelligence Concerns

In the field of artificial intelligence (AI) in particular, only 22 percent of professionals are women, and only 18 percent of authors at leading AI conferences are women, the fact sheet says. Additionally, “recruiters for technology companies in Silicon Valley estimate that the applicant pool for technical jobs in artificial intelligence (AI) and data science is often less than one percent female.”

“As men continue to dominate this space, the disparity only serves to perpetuate and exacerbate gender inequalities, as unrecognized bias is replicated and built into algorithms and artificial intelligence,” notes the 2019 UNESCO publication, called “I'd blush if I could.”

“The lack of gender diversity in the workforce, the gender disparities in STEM education and the failure to contend with the uneven distribution of power and leadership in the AI sector are very concerning, as are gender biases in data sets and coded in AI algorithm products,” says Gabriela I. Ramos Patiño, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO

Education is Key

Gender disparities in education negatively impact girls’ and women’s participation in the development of innovation and technology, says UNESCO. Thus, the organization also offers recommendations and calls for “collective action” to improve education around the world.

Recommendations include:

  • Putting gender equality at the heart of education sector plans, budgets, and policies
  • Ensuring access to role models and mentors
  • Preventing online bullying and gender-based violence 
  • Transforming harmful gender norms, attitudes, and behaviors in order to support justice, inclusion, health, and gender equality
  • Developing digital solutions that ensure the full and equal participation of all learners

“Gender-transformative education is key in boosting innovation and technology,” UNESCO says.

Learn More

Ethics of Artificial Intelligence — UNESCO
Getting Started in Cybersecurity — FOSSlife
The Economist’s glass-ceiling index — The Economist
Global Progress Toward Gender Parity Has Stalled — FOSSlife
IT Salary Survey Shows Increased Gender Wage Gap — FOSSlife
Why we must act now to close the gender gap in AI — World Economic Forum

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