How South Africa can fast track digital fluency

Key contributing factors to South Africa’s struggle to grow its economy are the ever-increasing talent, skills and equal pay gaps in the workplace.

This is according to the latest study released this week by Accenture, titled Getting to Equal 2017.

The study focuses on the country’s status and attitudes of working men and women, non-working women and undergraduates on the use and acquisition of digital and technology skills, and their perception of gender equality – including pay gap. It also explores the actions businesses, government, academia and women themselves need to take to help women and contribute towards the economic growth.

Actively growing digital fluency can deliver enormous social and economic benefits for South Africa. In addition, our research identifies two other gender pay equalisers – improving career strategies and greater immersion in technology – that also play a significant role in closing the gender gap.

The report shows that the choices young women undergraduates are making now are setting them up to enter the workforce with fewer digital skills, less mentoring advice and lower interest in pursuing high-paying jobs compared with their male counterparts. The report shows two powerful equalisers – in addition to digital fluency – that can help close the pay gap between women and men:

Career Strategy: The need for women to aim high, make informed choices and manage their careers proactively.
Tech Immersion: The opportunity for women to acquire greater technology and stronger digital skills to advance as quickly as men.

The potential impact is profound.

Combining these equalisers could add nearly 100 million women to the global workforce, reduce the pay gap by 35 per cent worldwide and add $3.9 trillion to women’s income by 2030. Working towards a more even distribution of woman across the industries in similar proportion as men would also significantly increase economic output and further boost GDP.

In South Africa, digital fluency and gender equality ranking is currently low. We ranked 21 out of 26 countries. The question is: ‘what actions can we take to turn this around?’ As the Fourth Industrial Revolution ushers in cyber-physical systems, robots, smart connected devices, machine intelligence, analytics, and mobile, social and cloud technologies, digital skills will be a vital to current and future workforces. The challenge is finding the talent pool. Women are a key part of the solution.

The problem is, women only make up 45.2 per cent of the local workforce. Tapping into South Africa’s pool of women would help address the country’s shrinking labour force as well as its employment challenges, increase its growth potential in the medium term, and raise living standards for all.

But women need to become more digitally fluent. A digital workforce is a more ‘adaptive’ workforce – an agile, continuously learning, distributed workforce comprising skills from internal and external talent pools that are often brought together on-demand to address micro tasks or projects using new workforce platforms and online management solutions.

The three accelerators – digital fluency, career strategy and tech immersion – could boost women’s income by 2030 by $3.9 trillion globally, and by $47.2 billion in South Africa, enabling the country to reach parity in 2041, 52 years earlier than anticipated. The gender skills and pay gaps have remained a global challenge for far too long. These gaps are not only hindering women, but business and economic growth in general.

Academia, government and business all have an important role to play in closing these gaps by actively supporting the application of the three equalisers, namely digital fluency, career strategy and tech immersion. By doing so, they can provide the environment, opportunities and role models to lead change.

Gale Shabangu, Inclusion and Diversity lead at Accenture.

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