Sustainable technology required to address gender inequality at workplace, say experts

GMIS panel discusses ways to reduce the manufacturing sector’s gender gap and how to increase the participation of women

Technology that is inclusive, sustainable and focused on people will help ensure that the Fourth Industrial Revolution does not reinforce gender inequality in the workplace, experts have said.

The goal of gender parity will require a concerted effort on the part of governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector and civil society, speakers at the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit said during an online panel discussion.

Ismail Ali Abdulla, chief executive of Mubadala Investment Company's Strata Manufacturing, said that “by empowering women to play a significant role in the success and direction of the company, we are setting an example for manufacturing companies everywhere”.

“However, clearly much more needs to be done globally to ensure a more equitable level of participation by women in the manufacturing sector and we fully support initiatives that aim to achieve this goal.”

At Strata, women make up 90 per cent of the Emirati workforce and more than half the overall workforce.

In 2018, the UN Human Development Report said the UAE had the highest level of gender equality in the GCC, with a significant number of women in the workforce and more women pursuing higher education than men.

Women made up 28 per cent of the Emirati workforce in 2018, compared with about 2 per cent  in 1975, according to PwC.

Evidence suggests that the developments seen across the manufacturing sector – driven by Fourth Industrial Revolution technology – “disproportionately benefit men”, the panellists said.

This is due to women's jobs being more concentrated in sectors that are more affected by automation.

“Bias is ramping up, in both the physical and digital world. I am a firm believer in the value of diversity – from the way we build our teams to the way we test our algorithms,” said Loubna Bouarfa, chief executive of Okra Technologies, a UK artificial intelligence company for health care.

“All stakeholders in the society need to embrace diversity and learn to be comfortable [in] addressing human and algorithmic biases.”

The panellists discussed ways to reduce the gender gap in the manufacturing sector, as well as potential policy measures and practices to increase the participation of women.

Mr Ali Abdulla said women constitute a vast talent pool that is underrepresented in manufacturing and many other economic sectors.

“As the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathers pace, we must shape the future of manufacturing in a way that is inclusive and ensures that no group gets left behind,” he said.