What Role Will Women Play in 2050? Z

What Role Will Women Play in 2050?

How do you imagine the world in 2050? Smithsonian magazine and the Pew Research Center conducted an opinion poll a few years ago on the matter. 71% of people think that man will find a cure for cancer. 66% believe that artificial limbs will outperform real ones. Most also believe that space travel will become commonplace for the average person, that an extinct animal will be brought back to life, and that humanity will find evidence of life elsewhere in the universe. Almost half of those surveyed think that a human will be cloned in the next few decades and that the technology to read people's thoughts will exist by 2050.

For sure, what we do know is that the convergence of digital, physical, and biological technologies will change the world as we know it. But what role will women have on this road to the future?

Let's return to the present to take a look at women's participation in these fields of study and work. Although women today represent approximately 60% of university graduates in Latin America, only 3 out of 10 women graduate in careers related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, known as STEM for its acronym. This problem is seen primarily in those fields that are more math-intensive—which include careers such as Robotics, Electronics, or Chemical Engineering—where only about 28% of graduates are women. These figures, a reflection of the phenomenon observed globally, are worrying for several reasons.

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First of all, the digital transformation is also changing the world of work and many new job opportunities are opening up in occupations related to the creation and use of technology. The low propensity of women to pursue careers in these areas may mean that they do not access these new opportunities. Today, only 1% of employed women in the region work in the information and technology sector. At the gates of the fourth industrial revolution, this statistic must change.

Second, but no less important, the gender gaps observed in STEM areas contribute to perpetuating the considerable salary gap that exists between men and women. In many regions, women can earn up to 40% less than their male peers in similar conditions and have only 33% of the best-paying jobs. We know, based on numerous studies, that closing the gender pay gap would entail benefits, not only for women and their families but also for the economies of the countries. Estimates even indicate that if women earned the same as men, global wealth would increase by 14%—wealth that would boost the economy.

So how can we address closing gender gaps in STEM fields to foster equity in the labor market? We need to innovate! One option is to rely on behavioral science tools, a specialty that brings together teachings from various disciplines such as economics, psychology, and social anthropology, to understand how individuals make decisions in practice. Behavioral science learning seeks to support the design of public policies incorporating a more realistic model of human behavior and encouraging individuals to make better decisions for themselves and society. These types of interventions present a feasible and innovative way to promote gender equality.

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Based on behavioral economics tools, professionals at the IDB are working to encourage high-performing high school students in science-mathematics subjects to choose STEM careers. To this end, they have carried out low-cost personalized interventions, such as sending behavioral letters. The letters seek to reduce stigmas related to gender stereotypes and self-confidence by showing them through stories of close role models that they can really thrive in STEM fields.

The underrepresentation of women in STEM areas is a significant and persistent empirical regularity in most countries of the world that affects gender equity in the labor market. STEM skills are critical not only to adapt to the new digital transformations we are experiencing, but also to continue technological developments through the design, operation, and maintenance of new technology infrastructure. We need more women to participate in this process in order to have an inclusive future, where scientific and digital advances reflect—and attend to—the diversity of the population. Because when women advance, society advances. And, according to a large majority of the population, the future looks good.

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