On October 24 in Paris, Business at OECD/BIAC hosted its third workshop on gender equality, addressing the third “E” of the OECD Project on Gender — “Education.” The workshop presented business initiatives that promote lifelong training and education of women, explored questions related to soft skills and career preferences, and discussed the impact of the digital economy and developments in technology for women at work. This year’s workshop was sponsored by Deloitte and Dell.
The focus was on STEM education. Keynote remarks were delivered by Dame Julia Goodfellow, vice chancellor of the University of Kent, who discussed the differences in subjects studied by women and men at universities (almost 70 percent of students studying languages are female, while almost 80 percent of students studying computer science are men), as well as obstacles women face in the later stages of their careers.
USCIB Senior Counsel Ronnie Goldberg provided on overview from the business perspective. She recounted that the first BIAC gender equality workshop had focused on “Employment,” including the “leaking pipeline” of female leadership. The second BIAC workshop shifted its gaze to “Entrepreneurship,” addressing women in the ICT sector and key activities for companies around the world in supporting women entrepreneurs, such as providing finance, mentoring and leadership. Goldberg discussed how since these two workshops, progress on gender equality has not come as fast as desired. She said this is because changes involve not only policy, but also shifts in social and cultural attitudes.
The first panel was full of updates by ambassadors to the OECD from Canada, Germany and Chile, as well as from the OECD secretariat. They discussed the status of women at work in their respective countries, and outlined various initiatives taken by government to support girls and women in STEM fields. The second panel looked at soft skills, training and education, and how to leverage gender balance for business success. Speakers, including USCIB member Coca-Cola, discussed efforts to mitigate unconscious and implicit bias, the link between having female leadership to better understand consumers, who are often women, and once again, understanding the reasons for the “leaking pipeline” and how to prevent such leaks.
A working lunch was led by representatives from Deloitte, who discussed the lack of women in STEM subjects not related to healthcare, using the United Kingdom as an example, and how to change this outlook for women in STEM. Suggestions included starting in early schooling, by giving young girls greater exposure to female professionals working in STEM and mitigating unconscious reinforcement of gender stereotypes.
The last session centered on the impact of the digital economy — on women in ICT sectors, how companies are educating women on technology, and how both women and companies are using technology to grow professionally. ICT company representatives, such as USCIB members IBM, Google and Dell, emphasized the benefits of having female employees, and discussed individual company initiatives to encourage young women to enter digital careers. Speakers stressed the importance of encouraging young girls’ confidence about their skills in STEM subjects, and the importance of demystifying the actual skills needed to succeed in the digital economy.
BIAC will release a report of the workshop and the issues raised during discussions. Reports from the previous workshops can be found here.