Inclusion is Smart and Good But? Digital Technologies, Science and Gender


Krishna Ravi Srinivas,
PhD, Consultant & Senior Fellow , RIS


On the Occasion of International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11th February) ,  UNESCO released a chapter from the forthcoming World Science Report (WSR) , titled as ‘To be smart, the digital revolution will need to be inclusive’[1] focussing on the gender dimension and the case for inclusion in, inter alia, digital technologies, innovation, and science. Given the emphasis on smart in the title of WSR, the title of the chapter is not surprising. The chapter highlights various issues in gender inclusion in Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) , AI, STEM, diversity in technology sectors, patents and intellectual property rights and the need to measure gender inclusion.

In the 4IR, skills shortage that is expected can be addressed by educating and training women. For women to seize upon the opportunities offered by the 4IR, there will need to be a level playing field in terms of access to enablers such as education and information”[2]. Here access to digital technologies including internet would be key as women lag men in many countries in terms of this divide. The idea that skill shortage that is expected in the 4IR can be met adequately by training women is an excellent one. But the over all issue is that of job displacement and replacement on account of 4IR. Today’s skill mighty become obsolete tomorrow or the job may be displaced or made redundant. Hence the key question is that of jobs and employment and whether increased digitization and automation will result in more jobs or less jobs and if so at what cost and whose costs. Identifying and addressing the gender dimension in this is important but that alone may not be sufficient.


Today women lag behind in hi-tech sector particularly in ICTs, AI and related fields. Similarly in terms of patents and indicators related to innovation women have a long way to go. Knowing how industry is responding to this imbalance and taking steps to enhance women’s representation in leadership positions and board level at companies will go a long way in bridging the gap.  But whether these alone can bring in transformational changes is a question worth pondering.


In higher education “Globally, women make up 33.3% of researchers (in head counts), according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics for 107 countries covering the years 2015–2018 (Figure 3.4). This is a much higher proportion than five years ago (28.4%) but large data gaps remain.” (P11). The progress in achieving gender parity is good in some regions like South Asia while Africa lags behind. At the same it is important to note that this and other trends are not related to GDP or per capita income and some of the countries that are doing well in education and gender indicators (if not in all indicators) need not be equipped well to utilize 4IR or benefit from it.Even OECD countries leading in gender equality rankings (WEF, 2018b) have a share of women researchers that hovers around the global average; such as Finland (33%), Norway (38%) and Sweden (33%)”[3].


One should also point out that many countries that seem to be doing well in terms of gender parity and gender and science indicators need not have a strong or a dynamic National Innovation System (NIS), nor are the leading countries in global S&T in terms of indicators such Gross Expenditure in R&D. However, it is obvious that systematic efforts in achieving gender parity and making higher education and S&T more inclusive are resulting in positive results. This per se is a welcome trend. But whether gender parity results in increase in number of women as researchers or increase in the share of women in researchers in S&T is an important issue. Gender parity in higher education is necessary but not sufficient to ensure equal/full/higher participation as researchers in S&T. There are many factors that constrain women from using their higher education and capacity and skills to enter research and pursue S&T careers, in academia or in industry, resulting in a gap. This gap is explained by a concept called ‘Leaky Pipe’, as shown in the figure below.


 Source:  Swarup and Dey (2020)[4] P 747


As Swarup and Dey point out even if there is no conscious effort to keep women out or filter them the ‘leaky pipe’ is a grim reality and there many factors responsible for it. Some of them have been described and discussed in the literature and this ‘Leaky Pipe’ cannot be attributed to any single factor and hence there is no one solution that would solve this or bring in drastic and positive changes.[5]


One issue that has often been highlighted is the lack of comprehensive data on gender and science. Lack of data and poor-quality data make evidence-based policy making and measuring the impacts and outcomes of policies difficult. More importantly there is a need for indicators, matrices and methodologies to ensure that discussion and policies on gender and science are based on data and robust interpretations, supplemented with holistic approaches and frameworks that take a comprehensive and coherent perspective on gender and science. In this regard, UNESCO’s STEM and Gender Advancement (SAGA) project, is an important initiative. Adopting it and contextualizing it to develop appropriate indicators for gender inclusivity is a challenge and is important to assess the impacts of interventions and policies/programs [6]


Overall the chapter has mapped well various issues and dimensions in gender exclusion in digital technologies and science. It has a rich data and excellent analysis coupled with many suggestions for policy makers. One hopes that this chapter will get the attention it deserves and will be used by academics and other stakeholders to further the cause of gender and inclusion in science. Since this addresses gender exclusion and under-representation in digital technologies and discusses jobs, employment, and gender in 4IR, it has much relevance for policy making. It is a welcome sign that it takes such an approach instead of narrowly focussing on gender and science per se.


RIS is sensitive to gender and STI,  and is addressing it through inter alia, Access, Equity, and Inclusion (AEI) framework. AEI approach goes beyond exclusion in science in terms of gender and addresses AEI in Science, Technology, and Innovation per se and strives to take a wholistic perspective, by paying attention to inter alia, emerging technologies and gender, developing indicators for gender inclusion, inclusive innovation and gender, gender and specific technologies such as biotechnology, and measuring AEI in STI.[7]  Similarly, we will be working on gender dimension in Science Diplomacy and how Science Diplomacy can contribute to gender equality by promoting SDGs. Obviously, we need to do more work in this, and this is a challenge and an opportunity as well.

[1] Bello, Alessandro; Blowers, Tonya; Schneegans, Susan and Tiffany Straza (2021) To be smart, the digital

revolution will need to be inclusive. In: UNESCO Science Report: the Race against Time for Smarter Development Paris : UNESCO

[2] Ibid p-3

[3] Ibid p-15

[4] Akanksha Swarup and Tuli Dey (2020) Women in science and technology: an Indian

Scenario CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 119, NO. 5, 10 SEPTEMBER 2020 Pp 744-748

[5] There are studies on ‘Leaky Pipe’ and in the literature there is much discussion on various factors that contribute to exclusion and underrepresentation of women in S&T. For example,

See 9/15

The Gender Gap in STEM Fields: Theories, Movements, and Ideas to Engage Girls in STEM 2/18

[6] Nimita Pandey in her talk at Consultation on Access, Equity and Inclusion (AEI) and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI)  organized by RIS on 3rd September 2020

[7] RIS Policy Brief 94 Access, Equity and Inclusion and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy

Science, Technology, Innovation in India and Access, Inclusion and Equity: Discourses, Measurement and Emerging Challenges Sachin Chaturvedi, Krishna Ravi Srinivas, Rashmi Rastogi RIS Discussion Paper 202 December 2015



  1. I am a digital marketing professional and feel that it's high that we establish a gender-neutral digital world. To help gain more knowledge and skills for the same I recommend you pursue a PGCM Course in Digital marketing via distance learning school to bring the very needed change. Thanks for sharing your insights.


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