Digital economy must not be discriminatory towards women

by AZREEN HANI / pic by TMR FILE

THE digital economy must not become a new way of discriminating against women, as equal access to digital technology and participation in professional activities are key to an inclusive post-pandemic recovery.

Huawei Technologies (M) Sdn Bhd public affairs and communications VP Rita Irina Abd Wahab (picture) said women have limited representation in advanced technology jobs that require higher skill levels and are better-paying.

These skills and jobs are increasingly in high demand for a transition towards a highly digitalised post-pandemic world, therefore there must be a serious start from policymakers to companies themselves to encourage women in the digital economy.

She stressed that the country must first remove obstacles for women’s participation in the digital economy.

“For a level playing field, the opportunities of today must include women for the jobs of tomorrow to be held by them. This is the path to digital inclusivity,” Rita Irina told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

“Ensuring equal access to women for economic opportunities is a policy challenge. Therefore, to ensure equal access to productive jobs, Malaysia should look towards policy directions that unlock the full economic potential of women and in turn, create more powerful female leaders,” she said.

“In short, there must be policy support for women, women must believe in themselves and not be wary of technology, and they must embrace digital technology. Only about 7.4% of Fortune Global 500 CEOs are women. We must increase this number,” she added.

In order to do that, Rita Irina said organisations must first truly understand what women in the organisation want and need from their employers.

“For a start, it is difficult to think about how to solve problems affecting women without adequate representations of women in decision-making rooms,” she said.

“Women need to have access to equal opportunities to ensure that they are able to compete and thrive in a highly digitalised post-pandemic world. Being tech-savvy will help women inch closer towards achieving gender digital equality and in levelling the playing field for them.”

Huawei, she said, believes in skills and leadership enhancements and that is what programmes such as the Empowering Women Leadership Conference organised yesterday are set to achieve.

The programme is one of many collaborations between Huawei Malaysia and the Women Leadership Foundation (WLF) to ensure that the nation will set a direct path toward a more inclusive economy and society.

They are currently planning to have a “Bootcamp for Future Female Leaders” in Sarawak which is intended to discover, hand-hold and unleash future digital female talents in the state so that their visibility will be enhanced.

Through this bootcamp, these female leaders will be equipped with both the technological skill sets from Huawei as well as the exposure to various leadership techniques that will make them effective and strategic leaders. Mentors will automatically be assigned to the participants and progress milestones will be tracked.

“In addition, we are planning to hold ‘Open Classes’ for aspiring women leaders. Through these classes, some of Huawei’s world class accredited programmes will be taught to these women, including classes on AI (artificial intelligence), Cloud, 5G, Internet of Things and Big Data,” Rita Irina said.

“Both Huawei Malaysia and the WLF believe this is the first step towards greater achievements for women and in the long run, help challenge the status quo. Therefore, we urge for more organisations to step up and help move the agenda forward.”

WLF chairman Datuk Dr Hafsah Hashim emphasised that the need for promoting women leadership is as important as creating an enabling environment for women to hone their leadership qualities.

“It is for this very reason that WLF and Huawei forge the partnership in ensuring that future-ready female leaders of Malaysia are equipped with the relevant technological skill sets in assisting them to make the right, fast and informed decisions, which will differentiate them from the rest of the leaders in their respective industries,” she said.

According to the February 2021 report from the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia, women have less access to opportunities linked to the digital economy.

Women, especially in rural areas, do not have access to the same opportunities and risk continuing to be worse off in the future, thus enlarging the digital gender divide across Asean.

“Evidence shows that women lag behind in terms of participation in more advanced types of access to the digital economy: Access to skills, entrepreneurship opportunities and leadership positions.

WLF and Huawei believe that the digital economy, characterised by AI, Big Data, cloud computing and mobile robotics in actual fact could improve female participation in economic life, and enhance the economic and social autonomy of women in various ways — such as offering women the potential to bypass some of the traditional cultural and mobility barriers, as it could assist women access new markets and help women avoid the enormous employment losses from automatisation, which, in developed countries, are predicted to account for up to 60% of all jobs over the next two decades.

“The partnership between Huawei and WLF will ensure that there is better complementarity on the roles of women alongside the men in the digital economy, ensuring that women are equipped with the right talent and skills sets in transforming them into strategic and visionary leaders,” Hafsah explained.