Remarks by Associate Professor Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian Representative to W20

June 12, 2016
By Susan Harris RimmerEditor: Jenny Yang

Plenary III: Women's Role in the Digital Economy 26 May 2016 (Thursday) 09:00-10:30, HILTON XI'AN

My gracious thanks to our Moderator, Ms. Cai Cai, UN ESCAP for her kind introduction.

I feel privileged to be here in Xi'an and wish to thank in particular the All-China Women's Federation for their exemplary hosting of this historic event.

On a personal level, I am particularly thrilled to be back in China, as my step-father Noel Woo is a Chinese Australian, and I bring greetings from the extended Woo family in Australia. They are very excited that I was able to experience a Tang Dynasty Grand Welcoming Ceremony.  Here in Xi'an, we are the beginning of the ancient Silk Road during the modern G20 Presidency of China. It is a very historic occasion.  In this country, in 1995, Fourth World Conference on Women set out a vision of a global economy fit for women.

Work that women do would be respected and valued.
Stereotypes about what women and men can and should do, would be eliminated.
Women would work and live their lives free from violence and sexual harassment.

The Beijing Platform for Action inspired then and it inspires now, and many of its provisions have been translated and updated with the Sustainable Development Goals.

I share the podium with some extraordinary women from the world of entrepreneurship and business. We have made great strides. 

But the reality of many women's economic lives in our G20 nations, however, is very different from the Beijing dream.

I rise today to speak to the theme of women in the digital economy. In cyberspace, we are all gender-neutral. One of the many disruptions the internet brings to the real economy is the ability to be anonymous in terms of age, race, gender: for better or for worse.   A person in Brisbane can do business with a person in Xi'an, without ever meeting face-to-face, or even speaking on the telephone. 

The possibilities then, to experience commerce without the legacy of centuries of gender-based stereotypes and discrimination, should be extraordinary. Use of the internet should also free up the need for access to public goods and space – no need for bricks  & mortar real estate, for significant investment in infrastructure before a person can engage in cross-border economic activity.  It is a possibility no woman in history has ever had before.  We think of innovation too often in relation to things, products.  Innovation can and should mean new paradigms of thought and human behaviour.

And yet.  We have carried the walls in our minds into the unwalled garden/jungle of the internet.  The 'ideal' worker all over the world is conceived of as male, elite, older, completely available to work at all times, a public figure who occupies public space and hyper-rational.  In institutions and vocations, women have made few inroads into leadership, instead staying as insecure worker bees at the bottom of the pyramid.  The IT sector is one of the worst. So what do we do to provide G20 leaders with advice on such a wicked problem?

In this panel we seek to bring together three global megatrends

1. The world of work is changing fast, with three key features:

Automation, with smarter machines performing a growing number of traditionally human tasks

Globalisation, where technology platforms are making it possible for workers around the world to do jobs from remote locations

Collaboration, through which we will see an increasing number of people engaged in flexible work with a range of employers to generate an income

2. The skills we need are changing fast, so fast that my world, the education sector, is not keeping up.  Yes, that is correct, even universities, the bastions of knowledge are having trouble adjusting to the new knowledge economy.

The 'New Basic' skills are:

Communication and negotiation skills
Management of tasks, people and projects
'Enterprise'skills – problem-solving, critical thinking, digital literacy, financial literacy, build coalitions, make presentations. (as opposed to technical skills)

I would add to these the 21st century diplomatic skillset – cross-cultural competency, framing, etiquette, knowledge of global governance.

3. Women are in trouble in this new economy, no matter how far they lean in.

Women are in trouble in this new economy.  According to the World Bank women's entry into the formal paid labour force globally went backwards for the first time since WW2 last year?  To quote our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – "In a world where human capital is the most valuable asset, why are we not including women?"

UN report: women spend 2.5 x more hours on unpaid care & domestic work than men (Australia 1.8 x)

Average global gender pay gap 24% (Australia 18.8%; super gap 47%)
2014 Oz Household, Income and Labour Dynamics survey: “Women do more paid employment, housework, childcare combined than men, regardless of whether the
man is the main earner, the men and women earn equal amounts or the woman earns more."
12% of the ASX 200 still do not have a single woman on their board.
Women make up just 17% of CEOs in Australia

This is despite the proven business case for gender equity.

Better for everyone (Athena SWAN UK)
Higher investor returns (Credit Suisse)
Higher quality science (PLOS One 2013)
Different leadership strengths > competitive edge (Women Matter 2. McKinsey Report 2008)
Increase collective intelligence (Science 2010)
Diversity improves performance (Mike Fraser VP and Head HR, BHP Billiton 2014)

Instead women report the following lived experiences:

Sexism; harassment; stereotype threat; gendered stereotypes
Having to prove themselves over and over again
Intimidation, bullying, "hostile/adversarial/toxic" work environment
Supervisors that become competitors and block progress (male & female)
Conscious and unconscious bias; "death by 1000 cuts"
Normalised discriminatory behaviours, the male gaze
Feeling of "not belonging", "being isolated", "not fitting in", having to challenge "male-centric leadership models"
Lack of confidence; impostor syndrome – women don't apply for jobs, promotions, fellowships when same qualified men do etc…
Primary carer responsibilities; societal pressures; unpaid work
Lack of senior female role models; conferences with no women
Lack of mentoring, sponsorship, encouragement and support
Committee burden for those who do succeed
Increasingly casualised workforce
Pay gap and lack of transparency around pay equity

This set of feelings (taken from surveys of women in higher education) has resulted in what is called – the stupid curve – the wasted talent that leaves the system.

Where we need them the most, in STEM, women are rare birds.

Women make up just 19% of all startup founders in Australia

Only 34% of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths are female. 1 in 10 engineers. 20% of the ICT workforce in Australia

The shift toward a digitally-driven knowledge based economy places greater pressure on the need to invest in women's education. According to research by the Foundation for Young Australians, 90% of the "jobs of the future" will require a minimum level of digital literacy, with 50% requiring the ability to not just use technology but to create and configure it. More broadly, research indicates 75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills.

The stakes are high - The shift towards freelance and contract employment heralds real risks in terms of workplace conditions such a maternity, paternity and carers leave.

Face of poverty and homelessness in Australia is now women over 65, partly b/c of the way we have designed super & longer life spans.

According to an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report, although women are entering ICT-related technical and professional positions, lower-level jobs are still highly feminized. The report stressed that in the United Kingdom women make up 30% of technical operations staff but hold only 15% of the management-level posts and but 11% of ICT strategic planning positions (ITU, 2012).

There is ample evidence of how important ICTs are for economic and social development (ECLAC, 2013b). These technologies are the engine of the new economic model, based on the information and knowledge society. In turn,

they contribute to people's integration and well-being, to the extent that the possibilities for accessing and using ICTs are creating new social categories (the "info haves" and the "info have-nots"). Technology is also coloured by cultural issues that keep it from being gender-neutral and shape factors such as degree of access, intensity and types of use and acquisition of technological skills.

The benefits of this change include

increased productivity at work (Krueger, 1993),
more efficient use of time
greater job-seeking efficiency (Kuhn and Skuterud, 2004; Stevenson, 2009),
and cheaper access to information on health and education among others.

First - initial digital divide in terms of access to computers and an Internet connection, which is based on sociodemographic factors. My home town of Coonabarabran has no mobile coverage and one public computer.

For women, the connectivity gap is even wider: only 12% of African women have access to the internet.

A second divide concerns the intensity and diversity of use, and it is determined by the capabilities and skills individuals acquire in using new equipment and resources.

The second digital divide is particularly important because access (provision of infrastructure, distribution of devices and introductory learning software) is an easier barrier to overcome than use and skills.

The different positions of men and women in terms of education, income, labour-market participation, and other aspects, explain why a lower percentage of women than of men use the Internet.

One key factor is women's smaller share in ICT-related occupations.

The gender equality failure of the information and knowledge society is the lack of participation and presence of women in digital content production. This leads to a high degree of sexism in Internet content, especially in the video game industry, where a recurrent theme is women's representation as passive sexual objects and men's as active and violent.  As a feminist academic active on social media – trolling is a fact of life.

Slow progress in closing labour market gaps (including in the high-tech labour market, where ICTs are an integral part of the production model) shows the need to raise awareness of the obstacles to access that have to do with women's continuing to be the main providers of unpaid work and care in the home. As long as this persists, there will be no change in patterns of access to and use of ICTs. 

To conclude:

The world of work is changing, the skillset we need to transition is changing, and most women are in deep trouble.  Women’s labour will not contribute to growth unless serious investment in equity is made in the G20 member nations.

At the G20 Summit in Brisbane the leaders promised to hit a target of reducing the formal labour gap by 25% by 2025 – in Australia this means at least an increase of 3 percentile points. I want this acceleration to be in decent work, and in STEM industries so that women can survive the economic transition. 

I want all girls to learn to code.  I want all older women to have basic digital literacy.  I want unpaid care work valued, measured and socialized.

The Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 called on national and international statistical organizations to:

(a) Collect gender and age-disaggregated data on poverty and all aspects of economic activity and develop qualitative and quantitative statistical indicators to facilitate the assessment of economic performance from a gender perspective;

(b) Devise suitable statistical means to recognize and make visible the full extent of the work of women and all their contributions to the national economy, including their contribution in the unremunerated and domestic sectors, and examine the relationship of women's unremunerated work to the incidence of and their vulnerability to poverty.

The G20 members could do more to make these recommendations a reality, and to stretch them to think about women's contribution to future sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Hosting a G20 year brings opportunity and responsibility.  I wish China the very best with its hosting of the Leaders Summit.  I look to Beijing to lead this next frontier of women's economic empowerment in 2016 as it did once before in 1995. The outcomes will be better for us all.   

Thank you. 谢谢

(Provided by International Liaison Department of the ACWF)

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