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Reinvent the Game: How to Leverage the New Digital Business for More Equality

Speakers: Joana Barbany, Marta Agrech, Jaume Ferre & Catherine Schoendorff

When talking about equality, some words mentioned by Peter Evans kickstart the conversation: “digitalization allows scalability in all solutions and possibilities.” Unfortunately, it also means that it can have an impact on all the gaps currently present in our society. Lead by Jaume Ferre, Joana Barbany, Catherine Schoendorff and Marta Agrech discuss the possibilities that the offline world can offer to build a more equal one. How can we reinvent the game?

According to Ferre,

“We have to guarantee access to technology and tech skills first. Then, once those two are fulfilled at a basic level, we can work on granting opportunities to all people"

However, we are not yet at that point, as there is a clear digital gap in the most vulnerable groups of the community - mainly, both sides of the spectrum, the elderly and the younger generations. Barbany clarifies that “the digital gap is based on three main pillars: access to the net, access to equipment and knowledge on how to use both.”

As some studies have shown, only one out of five Europeans over the age of 75 are using digital means. Schoendorff believes that “in the age of new business models, we need to bring the elderly in, include them in our journey, specially as they are a strong political force.” When it comes to young people, Ferre states that “digitalization brings radicalization, because there is too much access to technology. They are getting biased by the information that they are getting.” To this, Barbany adds that:

"New generations are digital natives but they don’t understand the power that data has or everything they can do with tools like a smartphone"

That is why Agrech says “it is so important to develop initiatives to connect those generations that don’t speak the same language anymore.” For example, Sopra Steria Next is working on a platform to facilitate the everyday lives of those taking care of people in a situation of dependency, considered ‘outside the system’.

“It is a tremendous chance for all of us - specially with the new technologies - to reinvent how we want to live”, comments Schoendorff.

It is also important to consider how social and political contexts affect the digital gap. Most recently, the Covid-19 global pandemic has had a great influence in bringing problems like this one to the surface. However, Barbany believes we should take advantage of it, as “we have moved forward ten years in terms of maturity when it comes to the internet and digital use. We have evolved as a society because of the lockdown.” While Agrech agrees, she states that there is still a lot of work to do, as she reminds that “over 200 million kids went out of the schooling system during the pandemic because they didn’t have access to school virtually.”

Other situations, like the war in Ukraine, have also pushed digitalization. Schoendorff highlights the resiliency of families who have emigrated and been hosted in other countries. “These are women with their children, and they are working for their country and being homeschooled. Without technology, they would not be able to do this.”

The next step in reinventing the game, says Ferre, would be “to guarantee the same opportunities, independently of origins, social background and gender.” Studies show that in February 2020, the workforce of the biggest technological companies - Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft - was formed by 28-40% women. When looking at purely tech positions, the numbers drop to 20-23%. Schoendorff states that “it has been proven that businesses are much more successful when there’s diversity, not only in terms of gender but in general.” However, there is still a scarcity of feminine talent and women in CEO or business positions.

Barbany believes this to be because “as women, we don’t know how to sell our companies when we’re looking for investment […] We need to teach women to empower themselves.” Agrech agrees, and adds that “we’re trying to find remedies to the consequences and not the problem itself. The best way to change the situation is to start at a very young age to input those soft skills that will boost girls’ confidence. Teach them that they can access certain jobs, understand them.” This would help facing data like that provided by the European Commission Reports, which states that only 29% of women who graduate are doing so in ICT or tech-related degrees, while the number for men is 96%.

While Schoendorff also backs up the need to develop soft skills, she also proposes “to teach women to be in the driver seat of their career.” That means not only believing that they can access CEO positions but also looking at their talent pool in a company from a potential point of view instead of just perfomance-wise. As well as redefining the way their family roles are organized in view of the future. For example, not optimizing salaries when starting a family.

“It takes ten years to move the needle by 3% on the gender gap”, says Schoendorff.

This is why, to accelerate equality it is important to work together, as “it is a matter that involves both men and women in a society.” Through creating networks and mentorship programs that connect successful professionals with young women who are starting their careers, we provide references in the sector. And initiatives like ‘Women in ICT’ (‘Dona TIC’), approved by the Catalan Parliament, allow tools to educate women in tech, as well as new opportunities to kickstart their own companies.

Nevertheless, all speakers agree that equality cannot be reached by just an individual effort. Real change would only take place with the support of governments and institutions. Something they seem to have a positive prospect on.

Written by: Gisela Giralt

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