It’s Time to Close the Sustainability Gender Gap
Environmental disruption affects all of us, but right now its impacts are hitting women harder. They bear the brunt of climate change, water scarcity, pollution, and resource depletion, even though they make up half of the world’s population.
It’s time to acknowledge that the environment is not a one-size-fits-all issue. The tech industry needs to be mindful of the gendered aspects when designing and implementing digital solutions, especially those focusing on sustainability.
Tech companies have a vital role to play in empowering women’s involvement in developing environmental solutions. Their participation is essential for achieving global sustainability goals. By promoting women’s inclusion and equality in creating digital innovations for sustainability, we can create more effective and fair solutions.
It’s not just about closing the gender gap in the tech industry; it’s about ensuring that our solutions address the specific challenges faced by women. They often confront unique environmental obstacles that need tailored approaches. By combining innovation, technology, and a gender-sensitive perspective, we can pave the way for an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable future.
What is Causing the Gender Gap?
Over the years, women have made remarkable contributions to tackling environmental challenges. From influential figures like Rachel Carson, Erin Brockovich, Wangari Maathai, to today’s prominent activist Greta Thunberg, women have consistently been outspoken advocates for the environment.
Despite their significant impact, women’s role in environmentalism continues to be undermined, largely due to gender inequalities. Three key areas contribute to this imbalance: the division of labor, resource access and control, and strategic decision-making.
Let’s first look at the uneven division of labor. Women make up the largest demographic in informal work and unpaid care, often spending 2.6 times more time on unpaid care compared to men. This means that when natural disasters or climate emergencies occur, women are less able to leave affected areas and seek alternative livelihoods. Tragically, during events like the Kobe earthquake in Japan or Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, we’ve witnessed a disproportionate number of women losing their lives or being left to fend for themselves.
In rural areas of developing economies, women heavily rely on natural resources to provide for their families. This reliance exposes them to greater vulnerability when these resources diminish due to environmental changes. Additionally, young girls are often pulled out of school to assist their mothers, disrupting their education and limiting their economic prospects.
Access and control over resources, finances, and opportunities is another critical factor. Globally, women have lower access to and control over essential resources, such as natural resources, technology, information, education, finances, and assets. Limited land ownership, for example, diminishes their decision-making power in areas like productivity improvements or transitioning to alternative energy sources. Furthermore, the digital divide prevents many women from accessing vital weather information or utilizing technologies like the internet and smartphones.
The lack of property ownership also hinders women’s access to credit sources, as these are often tied to collateral. Consequently, women receive a mere fraction of startup funding and climate funds, exacerbating their ability to afford and adopt climate solutions. Moreover, the global gender pay gap further restricts their financial capacity in tackling environmental challenges.
Representation in strategic decision-making is another critical concern. Whether in business, government, or civic settings, women are often underrepresented in decision-making forums. This is evident in international conferences on climate change, where women constitute just 27% of delegates, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, where only 32% of authors are women. The lack of female perspectives in shaping environmental policies and strategies hinders comprehensive and inclusive solutions.
It is important to highlight that women have provided valuable insights on combating environmental change, despite their underrepresentation. Their perspectives and experiences must be included in decision-making processes to ensure effective and equitable environmental policies.
We Need to Bring Women into the Climate Solution
Because the tech industry plays a vital role in developing solutions for environmental challenges, it is essential for tech companies to take action in closing the sustainability gender gap. Here are some ways they can contribute:
Adopting a gender-responsive approach to innovation and technology.
Tech companies should ensure that their project teams are diverse and inclusive, incorporating inclusive design principles that focus on meeting the actual needs and contexts of end-users. For instance, when developing digital solutions for agriculture in rural areas, companies should consider potential differences in tech literacy levels and design solutions accordingly. Establishing gender-diverse project teams may present challenges due to the existing gender gap in STEM fields. To address this, companies can analyze their internal workforce data to understand why women, despite excelling in STEM education, are underrepresented in STEM professions. By examining recruitment data, applicant numbers, promotion ratios, retention rates at different time points, and family-friendly benefits, businesses can gain insights into the factors that push women out and develop strategies to retain and advance them.
Supporting organizations that promote women in STEM.
Technology companies can direct their corporate social responsibility efforts towards initiatives that improve girls’ and women’s digital literacy by providing technical upskilling and educational opportunities.
Collaborating with gender-equality advocates.
By joining forces with gender-equality advocates, tech companies can develop digital solutions that address both environmental challenges and gender inequality. These solutions can model and predict the gendered impacts of climate change, using data on gender-specific resource utilization such as energy consumption, travel patterns, displacement during environmental disasters, and the effectiveness of digital interventions. This collaboration can provide timely and granular insights into novel questions related to gender and sustainability.
It is crucial for businesses to view gender equality not just as a reporting requirement or a standalone goal, but as an integral component of overall sustainability. The tech industry, in particular, has the power to shape the world’s understanding of the sustainability gender equation and work towards rebalancing it for a better future.