Close the IT skills gap by improving gender equality

CIOs need to develop a future workforce now. The key to that is digital fluency, it empowers women, and it empowers CIOs with a robust source of talent.

How can CIOs develop a workforce of the future when they don’t have the talent they need? IT organizations, like their peers in other parts of the business, continue to struggle with significant skill gaps. That is no wonder. CIO.com earlier this year reported on the low unemployment in the tech sector – 3 percent in the United States.

[ Related: How to conquer recruiting, retention and IT skills challenges ]

Many organizations may be overlooking an abundant, yet untapped, pool of talent — women. Although women are beginning to achieve gender equality and close the gender gap in IT by developing digital fluency, they remain underrepresented in the workforce in most developed countries. Increasing the number of women in the workforce and on leadership teams could allow CIOs to improve gender equality and access the skills they need to be successful.

[ Related: Women CIOs say visibility is key to closing gender gap ]

Organizations are most effective when gender composition aligns with the audience the organization is serving. Right now, this is not the case. IT organizations that have an imbalanced workforce are less able to anticipate and proactively address customer needs.

Bridging the divide

Developing digital skills and knowledge can help women prepare for work, find employment and excel in the workforce. Accenture’s recent research, Getting to Equal:How digital is helping close the gender gap at work, shows that digital fluency is an accelerant at every stage of a woman’s career, and an increasingly important factor for advancing into the leadership ranks.

The potential global impact of digital fluency is profound. If governments and businesses can double the pace at which women become digitally fluent, the world could achieve gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed nations and by 2060 in developing nations.

gender equality Accenture

(Click for larger image.)

Accenture developed a Digital Fluency Model to understand the effects of digital fluency on workplace gender equality. The model shows that nations with higher rates of digital fluency among women have higher rates of gender equality in the workplace. The United States, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Nordic countries have the highest digital fluency scores in the sample and rank among the top performers on workplace equality.

[ Related: How to solve the STEM gender equality equation ]

Additionally, the research found that men (76 percent) use digital more frequently than women (72 percent). Men also tend to be more proactive than women about learning new digital skills with 52 percent of men versus 45 percent of women reporting that they’re continuously learning new digital skills.

Accenture’s research also revealed many employment opportunities that digital fluency enables:

  • More than two-thirds of the women and men surveyed — 72 percent and 68 percent, respectively — said that digital is enabling more flexible ways for women to work.
  • This increased flexibility removes barriers for non-working women.
  • Nearly 60 percent of women who are not currently employed said that working from home or having more-flexible hours would help them find work.
  • Forty-six percent of women said digital helped them balance their personal and professional lives.

Digital fluency is a boon for women trying to grow their careers and manage households simultaneously, and it offers an advantage to CIOs who are trying to build their workforce for the future.

[ Related: Top 10 U.S. cities for women in technology ]

It’s time to catch up

Digital has already influenced today’s workforce composition. The new “liquid workforce” as identified in the Accenture Technology Vision 2016, is a key trend. In the digital era, companies need to harness technology to enable the right people to do the right things in an adaptable, change-ready and responsive liquid workforce. Digital fluency promotes a liquid workforce by enabling increased flexibility and labor on demand.

The newfound fluidity and flexibility enabled by digital fluency also creates variable capacity for CIOs, a welcome change as they try to predict what roles and skills they need for the future to meet business needs in an increasingly dynamic and agile way.

Achieving balance

CIOs can aim to close the skills gap by improving gender equality and shaping a more flexible work environment. Here’s how:

Create more flexible workforce practices and policies. By creating employee-friendly practices and an environment that promotes flexibility, businesses can remove barriers for women and help all employees to achieve greater work/life balance.

Use collaboration technology tools more effectively. CIOs can walk the technology talk by adopting leading-edge technology that supports today’s liquid workforce. Many businesses have far-flung operations and a distributed workforce. Effective collaboration is crucial to their productivity. Accommodating that model is a critical success factor to leveling the playing field for women, and building a workforce of the future.

Eliminate 'internal/external.' Digital virtually dissolves the four walls of an organization and offers a launch pad to get CIOs out of a fixed-capacity model. New labor constructs that allow greater flexibility and access to talent on demand are new to many CIOs, and they open the doors to a broader set of skills and a deeper pool of talent.

Digital is a promising avenue for CIOs to close the skills gap, and its impact will only become more pronounced with future generations. Nearly three quarters (71 percent) of men and women believed that, “the digital world will empower our daughters.”

Digital fluency empowers women, and it empowers CIOs with a robust source of talent that can lead organizations into the future.

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Diana Bersohn

CIO (US)
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