Women in Parliament G20 Roundtable “Digitalisation: Policies for a Digital Future”

Delivered 06-04- 2017 Dusseldorf, Germany

Minister Zypries, Members of the Women in Parliament, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here, and to see that the gender agenda is alive and kicking in every single G20 Presidency, thanks to you, thanks to your commitment, and thanks the W20. I still remember when we managed to approve the Gender target in the Brisbain Summit (that we actually crafted at the OECD), and when some male Sherpas did not consider this was for leaders. But we proved them wrong, and your presence here is a testament that this is a very important agenda.

And you know what? Dealing with gender issues in the context of the broader growth agenda of the G20 is the right way to do it. We will not make enough progress if we only consider women’s issues in a silo approach. We need to embed a gender angle in each one of the important debates in the G20, and the digital transformation is quite a relevant one.

If we do not get it right, the rapid pace of technological progress may open another divide that will add to the list of obstacles that women face, and in a sector which that is key for building our future. We cannot afford it.


Digital economy

Indeed, the progress made by the digital economy in the last years is amazing. The internet of things is everywhere, and it is changing the way we work, the way we live and the way we interact among each other.

The OECD prepared the report on “Key issues for a digital transformation in the G20” for the German Presidency, and the conclusion is clear. We need to take the right policies to ensure that we get the best of the ICT diffusion, while controlling the downside risks.

On the positives:  The pace of change is spectacular. Take digital access, for example. 20 years ago, only 4% of the world population was connected to internet. Now, it’s at 40%. Take mobile phone usage: while gaps persist, nearly 70% of the bottom fifth of the population in developing countries own a mobile phone.[1] This is opening real promises to the most disadvantaged population.

It is bringing enormous opportunities.

In manufacturing, in services, in health, in education, in innovative ventures, and in so many other activities. Governments can become also more effective, if they rely on solid IT systems for service delivery.

But digitalisation also brings challenges which governments must tackle now. The digital world can produce “winner takes all” dynamics, with a polarisation between a few very productive firms at the technological frontier, while the other firms are lagging behind – with, in turn, an impact on wage inequalities. We also have more than half of the world population without access. So we need a solid package of comprehensive policies to deal with it, and we present som of them in our report.

First of all, we need to ensure competition in the ICT sector and in the broader economy, as the dynamics of the digital transformation may be challenging traditional competition policies particularly if we consider the platforms that we know.

Second, a fundamental pre-condition for the digital transformation is establishing sufficient trust in the reliability and security of networks, including the respect of privacy, consumer’s rights and interoperability of standards. Trust is particularly relevant for SMEs, for children, for women.

Third, we need to boost investment in digital infrastructure, both to help bridge digital divides and to meet future demand, even in countries that have relatively high penetration rates. In the context of increased inequalities, emphasis should be placed in low income groups, and low income regions to boost productivity and growth.

We must make sure that all citizens and firms of all size have access to digital technology and have the skills to take advantage of it.  High level skills, and adaptive skills will be key for a rapidly changing world of work.

Finally, we need to develop a gender ICT agenda, and we support the G20 Presidency proposal for ICT skills for girls.

Let’s be frank. With the current context, the outlook is not so positive regarding participation of women in the digital economy. To start with, in our world of stereotyping, anything related to technology or mathematics (the famous STEM), is not defined as a default option for girls.

No surprising, globally, women make up fewer than 20 % of the ICT workforce and 9 % of ICT sector CEOs.

So we need to develop the skills and the self-confidence! Our PISA study shows that despite the fact that girls tend to outperform boys in STEM subject areas, boys are twice as likely to expect to work as engineers.

In 2012, only 14% of young women who entered university for the first time chose science-related fields of study.

The story here is not about abilities, but more about the attitudes and inherent biases of parents, teachers, the media, and our societies that affect children’s perception of what they should be good at. We have measured this in the PISA report. The families, the school, the girls, do not aspire, do not dream, and are not encouraged to go for STEM or to digital. They can even be dis-encouraged as these are not female occupation!

There is an additional angle. If we think the media reproduces demeaning models for women and girl, waits until you deal with social networks. They promote images of women and girls that are a real problem. OECD countries have confirmed that, the banalization and objectification of women bodies, and the pressure slim and perfect models put on them, is  totally inacceptable. It is creating a problem of mental health, and suffering that should be addressed. Not to talk about direct aggression cyberbullying, that is shared by girls and boys all the same, and should be stop.

So where do we start? I would say strengthening protection on line is a must.

We should also target policies on girls and women underrepresented in STEM. I just launched an initiative in Mexico, gathering the most powerful women in science, for them to mentor and encourage school girls to go for it.

But we also need to eliminate stereotypes, everywhere and particularly in the media. We can also do so in the textbooks of our schools, and training teachers to recognize those biases. Germany has done so, to avoid gender defined occupations. Girls should also be put to do coding, and to get acquainted with these technologies early.

At the level of IT firms, we should ensure that  a share of senior posts are dedicated to women. I know that quotas are never the first option, but given the slow progress, there is nothing like quotas.

If, as they say, some incompetent women may get the job because of quotas, I would say  that too many incompetent men has also gotten a job, even without a quota! And maybe we can get rid of violent video games!

So let’s get on with the task, and let’s support a meaningful agenda. Again, I commend this Round Table, the W20 and the German Presidency to move on. I am delighted to hear that the outcomes of our discussion in this Roundtable will be presented to the Digital Ministers today. The world will be listening, and you must be proud of carrying this important message.

Many thanks,



[1] The World Bank (2016), World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends, International Bank of Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank, Washington DC.



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