You can’t hide from it. High performance enterprises are digital and gender diverse. Too bad they are a minority. Here’s a step in the right direction.

The statistics are pretty staggering. MIT research reveals that companies that are the most digitally mature are 26% more profitable than their industry competitors. They generate 9% more revenue through their employees and physical assets. And they create more value, generating 12% higher market valuation ratios.

Recent work by Morgan Stanley shows that enterprises with more gender diversity returned on average 5.4% more on an annual basis than the average yearly returns of their peers with less gender diversity.

And yet we see from McKinsey that we are way behind in harnessing the digital revolution with only a small portion of GDP considered digitally savvy. Worse, 16% of major board members see no benefits to diversity (and sadly, another 11% couldn’t even comment because they didn’t have diversity on their board!). It seems obvious we should be doing both. We need more digitally fluent women.

“Digital fluency” is less about doing things like learning to code, and more about using technology to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective. Men around the world overwhelmingly rely on technology more than women do.

An Accenture study, which ranked 31 countries in terms of digital fluency and gender equality, found that nations with higher rates of digital fluency among women also performed better in terms of workplace equality. For example, women in the US, Netherlands, the UK, and the Nordic countries had the highest rates of digital fluency and ranked towards the top in terms of workplace gender equality.

Women in the US were the most digitally fluent overall. But before we get complacent, they still scored lower than their male counterparts. And the country didn’t even rank among the top 10 in terms of the smallest digital-fluency gap between the genders.

How did we get here? Not many of us know this, but women used to be 37% of computer science grads and now are down to 18%. Less than 7% of women are STEM grads. This is nuts. For good or ill our whole culture is built on technology that is increasingly smart. Technology and tech companies permeate our lives. Half the population – women – is sorely underrepresented. Instead, we got the rise of a pernicious “bro culture” in tech.

The history is pretty ironic. Women have played key roles in the origins and development of our digital world. The first “computers” were women who carried out math calculations. Grace Hopper, another woman, led the first computer software program development. And if you have been to the movies lately, you’ll know from “Hidden Figures” that it was women who calculated the orbital mechanics of the first American manned spaceflights.

It seems that the pivot took place with the introduction of the personal computer in the late 70’s and early 80’s. There are a number of theories why the gender imbalance arose. Regardless, the issue now before us is how to encourage and hasten women’s digital fluency. The same Accenture research indicates that if governments and businesses can double the pace at which women become digitally fluent, we could reach gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed nations and by 2060 in developing nations.

How can we make that happen? Obviously, raising the profile of women in computing as role models and encouraging young women to regularly use digital tools will work on the pipeline. But, what should we do about women in the workplace today?

This sort of challenge is not new. We expect staff to be aware of many subjects beyond their core responsibility. Consider what we do with these other disciplines. We have courses in “finance for non-financial managers”. You are required to take courses – often computer based – in the basics of human resource laws and the organization’s HR policies. Often staffs are mandated to undergo training in laws that might regulate the business (e.g. the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – FCPA, etc.)

Now stop and think: how much training have you had in technology or the impact of digitization? Unless you are an engineer, it is probably close to zero. You are expected to pick it up on your own. And of course, the popular press in their effort to get your attention emphasizes the fear side. The rise of intelligent machines will take your job. The government knows everything you put through your smartphone. Ransomware is going to lock you out of your computer until you pay off the hackers. Whew!

Why not institute digital technology training? Just like in finance, HR or compliance, the objective is not to make you into an expert. The goal is to make you fluent enough to navigate the digital landscape as an intelligent layperson. Imagine a survey course that calmly captures the digital landscape, addresses trends and perhaps has a module or two that addresses issues unique to the students’ particular industry.

What do you think? If you are a male reading this, please pass this post along to current and aspiring female leaders in any and all fields. Please – all of you – let me know your thoughts.

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