Women in Tech 2020: The role of climate, gender and ICT

What role do women and ICT play in the wider climate discussion and why is it so underreported? We take a look below.

Woman working in dark

Master Researcher focused on the sustainability impacts of ICT

Master Researcher focused on the sustainability impacts of ICT

If you devote your professional life to sustainability it is very likely that you end up in gender-balanced teams, also in the predominantly male tech sector.

For me that is in stark contrast to my university years when I studied electrical engineering, or when holding more technical roles where being the only woman in the room would normally be something I would not even notice. Still, I appreciate the mixed gender teams and their broader representation, not least since the sustainability challenges are complex and could only be solved if a variety of perspectives are considered.

Isn’t it time we talked more about climate, gender and ICT?

Having spent the last decade in research and standardization, it is very clear to me that the need to mitigate climate change, handle its consequences and build a more resilient society is the defining responsibility of our time.

Along these lines, I have more recently began to discover a very underreported theme across the area: the gender aspects of climate change.

What are then the climate implications of gender? Well, according to UNESCO, there are three aspects where gender differences come into play in the context of climate change:

  • Women as victims: Women are affected differently and more severely by climate change and climate change induced migrations because of social roles, discriminations and poverty;
  • Women as change agents: Women possess specific knowledge and skills to effectively contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, but they are largely under-represented in decision-making processes at all levels;
  • Women, climate and SDGs: Effectively taking into account the gendered dimension of climate change is key for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Empowering women can empower climate action

The more I have become aware of the gender aspects of the climate challenge, I have realized another even more underreported theme: climate, gender and ICT. Thus, working on ICT and sustainability and having the opportunity to blog for Ericsson on the International Women´s day under the hashtag #EachforEqual and the theme ‘Collective Individualism’ this perspective of climate, gender and ICT was a natural angle and one that comes close to my heart, not least since the ICT sector itself is still characterized by insufficient female representation and gender differences in usage patterns

Before focusing on ICT let´s put the gender aspects of climate into perspective: Did you know that Project Drawdown put Educating Girls and Family Planning on its top 10 list of the most impactful climate solutions (across  all three scenarios of the most impactful climate solutions)? Jointly education and family planning are estimated to have the potential to avoid 123 Gt of carbon dioxide in the future. Much further down but still considered a climate solution we find Women Smallholdership.

Let´s take a closer look at what this means.

The importance of education

Every girl (and boy) is a world of its own. Every child should be given its birthright of education, not just as a cause of achieving something else but for their own future. Still, the connection between education and climate change is an important one.

Project Drawdown, quoting Brookings institution, states that the difference between unschooled women and women with 12 years of schooling is 4-5 children per woman. Overall, they estimate that there will be 843 million fewer people in the world if 100 percent of girls get primary and secondary education, and quote economic studies which identifies education of girls as highly cost-competitive with almost all mitigation solutions. On top of that educating girls increases the resilience of societies and increases the ability to cope with extreme weather events.

The importance of family planning

According to Drawdown 225 million women in lower-income countries say they want the ability to choose whether and when to become pregnant but lack access to contraception – resulting in some 74 million unintended pregnancies each year.  And the challenges to overcome here include supply of contraception, education, and attitudes. It´s not an easy task but Drawdown put forward success cases like Bangladesh where birth rates fell from six in the 1980s to two now.  And the importance is high – failing to address family planning might mean another 1 billion people to sustain.

Though this perspective is interesting enough and one that would be interesting to consider from the perspective of our transformational industry, especially since online educational platforms such as our Connect To Learn could provide new means to reach target groups, gender and climate goes well beyond population and empowering women through access to education and contraceptives.

Educating Girls and Family Planning are among the top ten most impactful climate solutions according to Project Drawdown

Why we need more women in ICT

Before digging deeper into this, let´s start by looking at the representation of women in the ICT industry itself. When I studied electrical engineering way back in time, women were about 10 percent of all students in my university in Sweden. Though many years have passed since then newer statistics shows that there is still a long way to go.

Recent figures from the EU show that still only 17 percent of ICT students, 19 percent of ICT managers and 9 percent of ICT developers are women. In a transformative era like ours we clearly need to do better. This underrepresentation is a waste of brainpower that we cannot afford neither in terms of innovation nor in decision-making.

Harvard Business Review presents a McKinsey study which shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have returns above the industry mean and Credit Suisse has noted that organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board. Other research shows that non-homogenous teams are simply smarter.

This is the decade of halving global carbon emissions while managing also the global goals for sustainable development. With the decade of action at our doorstep, where we need to work hard and innovate to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, there is simply no alternative to using the full brainpower and integrate the most diverse perspectives we have access to. Engineering is about identifying, analysing and solving problems. With humanity´s largest challenges at the table, it is clear that we need as many good engineers and broad perspectives as we can get. Engineers are critical to help us go from high-level decarbonization solutions into actual implemented systems.

As an industry we often claim that we will provide technology that can help this societal transformation. Our research suggests that already established technologies have the potential to bring down overall global emissions by 15 percent. In sector after sector, digital technologies can help us use resources smarter. The many young women wanting to do their part for the climate can help to improve the gender balance in our industry. With all the challenges upon us, an ICT career has probably never been more relevant for someone passionate about societal development and the future of our planet. Clearly, we have to both walk the talk and show young women (and men) why ICT is a good place to be if you want to save the world.

Woman wearing VR glasses

Women remain substantially unrepresented in today’s ICT sector, accounting for only 19 percent of managers and 9 percent of developers

Gender habits and the climate

The gender perspective on climate is also about the solutions we provide as it involves our current habits, our future habits and the way in between. It is well-known that there are gender differences in the way we lead our lives and consume.  To give a few examples, statistics from the UK shows that car travel accounts for two-thirds of all commutes by both men and women. Still there are considerable gaps in commuting practices as men tend to work more far away from home and undertake almost two-thirds of commutes lasting more than an hour and at the same time. At the same time, cycling is much more prevalent among men. At the same time a study from Sweden´s Innovation Agency concludes that emissions from travelling in Sweden could reduce by 20% if men´s travel patterns became more like those of women.

Moving to diets, one survey of 11,000 people in the US found that just 24 percent of vegans are men. And even in investments, gender comes in as a parameter in the decision process and risk preferences.  All of these, transports, food and investments, are areas that needs to be transformed to decarbonize the society. What these examples indicate is that we need to understand gender differences in preferences and drivers when tailoring new technologies, policies or marketing campaigns to achieve climate smarter behaviours or consumption patterns.

So what are the practical implications of this when it comes to developing climate smart offerings? If we want to disrupt the transport system with a ride sharing system or get more people to use public transport, we need to consider the safety aspects through a gender lens. If we want to disrupt the food business with new plant-based options that get more men to the table, there are likely implications for design and marketing teams. And for green investment programs, they have to be well packaged to make them attractive to both men and women.

Obviously, this is true for how our industry develops and markets 5G, IoT and AI as well – we simply need a broader perspective that embraces both climate and gender. But on top of that these new analytical capabilities gives us a better chance to understand gender implications on climate transformation faster – and time is badly needed as we must halve global carbon emissions by 2030.

We need more Greta Thunbergs, we need more collective action

Finally, there is a more subtle connection between feminism and climate transformation hidden in the theme of Individual Collectivism.

Individual efforts, leadership and frontrunners are the ones that trigger change. Interestingly, outside of the institutions, today´s leadership often comes from young women such Greta Thunberg and her likes. However, unless systemic changes happen at a collective level which enable the broader group to follow this will only take us so far. In the end the technical and societal infrastructure that allow us to lead our lives as we want them simply has to be there.

The eternal pendulum between brave individual efforts and the system changes that triggered has helped us reach the position where we are today as women. The same interdependency between individual action and collective movements exist for climate transformation. Perhaps there are some lessons from the feministic development that the climate transformation could learn from?

This is the decade for action – let´s make sure not to miss out on anyone or any perspective that could maximize the outcome of the climate transformation. Gender is an important but complex categorization that we need to understand better to save the climate – something the ICT sector and we as engineers should make sure to keep in mind.

climate people street crowd

The brave actions of the few can help to drive the technical and societal infrastructural changes we need on a broader scale

10 pieces of advice for a young tech woman on a sustainability mission

To me it´s obvious that increased insights regarding climate, gender and ICT could help us better address the challenges of the coming decade, and I feel very inspired by the drive and competence of all the talented young women in our industry, not least those who devote their careers to safe-guarding our living environment.

Being a woman in our male-dominated industry has mostly been quite uncomplicated. However, being a minority brings you some insights. To end this post, I would like to share some of things that I´ve learnt which might help younger colleagues to navigate:

  1. The ICT sector is normally a great place to work as a woman because a dynamic and expanding sector provide enough opportunities to all of us.
  2. Being the only women comes with some advantages – not fitting into the frame gives you a much freer license to act. Use it.
  3. Do not diminish yourself and what you can do. Raise your voice and claim your space in the room – others will not do it for you.
  4. Do not make excuses. If you need to leave a meeting apology yourself and leave without detailed explanation about your kid´s dentist appointment.
  5. Keep developing and learning whether in tech or leadership – if you have stopped learning from your work then you have probably outgrown it. In particular, if you have the opportunity try to combine your engineering skills with some knowledge from other disciplines. Tomorrows challenges are complex and the need for transdisciplinary knowledge is growing.
  6. Take good care of yourself and remember to breath when the burdens of every-day life are too high.
  7. Take some time every now and then to go back and see what you have achieved and what you have learnt – it is very easy to forget old victories because of new burdens.
  8. If you are still in the beginning of your career – get yourself a mentor outside of your immediate working group, someone more senior who is willing to support you if times are rough or you just need some time to reflect.
  9. Set-up a network of like-minded women and meet regularly to support each other and reflect upon working life. One of my friends did as we left university and ever since we have met every 6 to 8th week to discuss our professional joy and hurdles. I know we all value this greatly and it has helped us to put an end to unreasonable projects, reaching for positions we might otherwise never had the guts to go for and helped us to navigate as women in a male working world.
  10. Don´t freak out if you, as I did, discover that you are finally pregnant a few days after starting your first managerial position. Enjoy the unique period of your life – and there is no reason that your professional life should not flourish! After all, once you are back you are still the talented person that got the job in the first place plus some added life experience with extended planning and managing skills.

Learn more

We believe collective action and shared responsibility are key for driving a gender equal world. This month, we are marking International Women's Day 2020 by reflecting on our progress so far as well as furthering our commitment and call for additional action.

Learn how our Connect to Learn programs are helping girls across the most vulnerable communities to gain access to education.

According to the GSMA, 300 million fewer women than men access mobile internet. Find out more about why this is in the latest GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020.

Check out the Ericsson Careers page.

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