9. Women and SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

This chapter provides a description of the links between gender equality and the empowerment of women on the one hand and industrialisation, infrastructure and innovation on the other. A number of issues are addressed:

  • Infrastructure development is fundamental to economic growth and to creating economic opportunities for vulnerable groups. Access to safe, multimodal transport, modern digital services, and social infrastructure like public parks, and health and care centres, are essential to close gender gaps and promote the economic empowerment of women.

  • At the same time, major infrastructure projects, in particular in the transport sector, could harm local communities and the environment, especially in countries with low standards of protection and enforcement. The vast share of construction projects in the transport sector are concentrated in developing countries, including in areas where there is high biodiversity. Women are often most affected by land displacements, human rights abuses (including sexual crime and violence), weak labour rights, and safety and health risks caused by unsustainable infrastructure projects.

  • The growth of industrial sectors, and the move to service and knowledge-based economies are rarely gender neutral. While industrialisation has created employment opportunities for women in the developing world, many women are still in low-skilled, low-paid assembly-line type jobs.

  • Important gender gaps persist in the more dynamic and innovative sectors of the economy. Surveys show that women have less access to the Internet and are less likely to own a mobile phone than men. The gap is largest in developing countries.

  • Another concern is the low take-up of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects among women, which leads to a low percentage of women participating in technology development (inventive activity), reaching only 15% on average across all countries and all technology domains. This translates into more limited opportunities for women to contribute to green innovation.

  • Skill gaps, social norms, biases and labour market discrimination translate into a large gender gap in decision-makers in the infrastructure, green innovation and digital sectors.

  • Gender inequalities can combine with discrimination over race, disabilities or other personal attributes to deepen gender gaps. Assessing the intersectionality of the gender-infrastructure nexus is fundamental to the development of effective policies.

  • Policy action is required in these different areas to tackle gender-specific risks, address gender labour gaps and promote the economic empowerment of women. Regarding infrastructure, a key requirement is to ensure that major projects undergo an independent, comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment, including a gender impact assessment. Infrastructure strategies and plans, in particular in the transport and digital sectors, must include a gender dimension.

  • Policy makers must consider options, including reporting, targets and quotas, for increasing the participation of women in senior management positions in industry and infrastructure. More resources and action are needed to promote programmes to increase the uptake of scientific research and innovation by women, and to tackle the barriers to their participation in STEM subjects.

Manufacturing, technological progress, innovation and infrastructure development are at the core of human progress and well-being. They underpin higher productivity, income generation and wage growth, jobs, and better living standards through access to basic services such as health and education services. They are therefore at the heart of many other SDGs, including SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth, SDG 10 on inequalities, SDG 1 on poverty eradication and SDG 2 on zero hunger.

However, most economic production processes are also natural resource and energy intensive, and have contributed to the destruction of ecosystems, including deforestation and the extinction of millions of animal and plant species. They also generate waste, pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Achieving SDG 9, therefore, requires a transformation in production processes, especially in energy intensive industries such as mining, chemicals and materials manufacturing, as well as fossil-fuel based transport. Air transport is particularly polluting and is experiencing rapid growth. Maritime transport is also of great concern to environmental sustainability especially for the oceans. It also requires technological innovation to transform the current industrialisation trends to more sustainable and resilient infrastructure and production methods.

The industrial development and growth of economic sectors, and the move to service and knowledge-based economies are rarely gender neutral. Women in rural areas, indigenous groups and traditional societies have been affected most by these trends. Manufacturing tends to be a male dominated industry, even though the “feminisation” of the workforce is becoming more and more apparent. Women are integrating more in manufacturing, especially in developing countries, while in some cases labour conditions and protection are not up to standards. In addition, there is also a large gender gap in new technologies and innovation, leading to female exclusion from the technological innovation necessary to move towards more sustainable industrialisation. Women entrepreneurs also face greater obstacles to operate from regulatory barriers to access to finance.

Under SDG 9 there are three gender-related indicators, all of which cover environmental issues (9.1.1 on the proportion of the rural population who live within 2 km of an all-season road, 9.5.2 on the number of researchers per million inhabitants, and 9.c.1 on the proportion of population covered by a mobile network, by technology). These cover different gender issues, namely rural women’s access to road infrastructure; the role of women researchers and inventors; and women’s access to digital technology and mobile networks. Yet, achieving all other indicators under SDG 9 could potentially have positive effects towards women’s and girls’ empowerment, should inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and infrastructure encompass gender equality. Collecting gender-disaggregated data on these indicators, which also have a strong environmental component – such as on modes of transport, manufacturing and small-scale industries – is imperative, considering women as users, workers or entrepreneurs.

The growth of industrial sectors, and the move to service and knowledge-based economies are rarely gender neutral. Export-oriented industrialisation and assembly-line type jobs have created new employment opportunities in manufacturing for women across much of the developing world. As also discussed in Chapter 6, women in manufacturing tend to concentrate in low-skilled and low-paid assembly-line type jobs (ILO, 2016[1]). Women tend to move from agriculture to manufacturing, without having guaranteed better paid or more secure positions (Tran, 2019[2]).

The expanding services sector around the world has opened up career opportunities in formal, skill-intensive employment for a minority of highly educated women. Yet, mostly in developing countries, the majority of women continue to be trapped in poorly paid or part-time jobs due to household chores and care burden (ILO, 2016[1]). Jobs in research and innovation that are driving the transformation towards the knowledge economy continue to be dominated by men.

Major gender gaps also persist in OECD countries. For instance, in the case of the United States, women’s share of employment in the manufacturing industry decreased from 33.2% in 1990 to 29.0% in 2016 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016[3]). Furthermore, major wage gaps remain, with unequal access to opportunities. Women are also subject to discrimination and in some instances unsafe working environments.

As described in more detail in Chapter 4, industrialisation has also contributed to environmental damage, including pollution and other environmental hazards, with specific negative effects on women’s health.

Infrastructure plays a key role in trade and access to markets and is closely linked to economic growth and well-being. Infrastructure is also essential for gender equality, as it may provide women with better access to transport, energy, clean water, and sanitation and hygiene facilities. It can therefore reduce the time women spend in household and care responsibilities, providing them with an opportunity – and the means – to move into paid labour. Other social infrastructure developments, such as education and health, can support women’s economic empowerment and well-being. When developed with gender equality considerations, well-planned projects can additionally benefit women by ensuring better personal safety in public spaces (see for example urban transportation in Section 10.3.4). Across the world, the sector is also a major employer. Ensuring a gender lens in infrastructure development is therefore essential. At every stage, there can be further integration of women’s role in infrastructure, starting with project scoping. Project assessment, approval, construction and maintenance must all include a gender dimension (Open Development, 2020[4]) to guarantee that women’s needs and perceptions are taken into consideration. Initiatives like Gender-based Analysis Plus applied to the National Trade Corridors Fund in Canada show women, men and gender diverse people1 can all benefit from more sustainable infrastructure (ITF, 2019[5]).

Infrastructure projects need to integrate ecosystem, environmental and social considerations, including gender impacts. While major infrastructure projects can bring great benefits in economic development and opportunities for different groups, including women, they also create risks to the environment and to women affected by construction projects (OECD, 2019[6]). In developing countries, women’s low levels of education and gender discrimination make rural women disproportionately vulnerable (Mortensen and Boyland, 2019[7]).

Policy makers are increasingly focused on promoting sustainable infrastructure, taking into account environmental and social considerations. Infrastructure development can have profound implications for the environment, as it may contribute to changes in the air quality, in water quality and quantity, and in biodiversity and local ecosystems. Infrastructure projects, if not sufficiently consulted and designed, could lead to disproportionate costs for local communities and indigenous populations; leading to their displacement, loss of ancestral lands or even violation of human and labour rights (UNDESA, 2009[8]). Women in rural areas and among indigenous peoples are more often than not additionally affected due to the marginalisation and lack of ownership and voice they experience. At the same time, infrastructure development may create new or different jobs, changing the labour patterns and the economic development of the given region. This may have gender implications that would need to be considered.

The G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment, and the OECD-developed G20 Reference Note on Environmental and Social Considerations in Quality Infrastructure, integrate both environmental, social and particularly gender considerations in infrastructure development. The Reference Note proposes possible measures to help minimise the negative environmental and social impacts, and to make future infrastructure development and investment more sustainable. Among the points raised is also a gender perspective in infrastructure planning, design and development (OECD, 2019[9]).

In 2015, the OECD developed a Framework for the Governance of Infrastructure, which identified 10 “success factors” for getting infrastructure right and provided policy options for an enabling environment, building on several OECD instruments such as public procurement, budgeting, integrity framework etc. (OECD, 2017[10]). In 2020, OECD members endorsed a Recommendation on the Governance of Infrastructure, which allows for more gender inclusive infrastructure projects, and ensures gender mainstreaming and direct involvement of women throughout the infrastructure governance cycle (OECD, n.d.[11]).

The risks of transport infrastructure construction on local communities and the environment are highest in countries with low standards of protection and enforcement. The vast share of construction projects in the transport sector are concentrated in developing countries. By 2050 global freight and passenger travel are expected to double, for which 25 million km of new paved roads and more than 300 000 km of rail tracks will be needed worldwide. This will lead to additional 85% infrastructure development, of which 90% will be roads (Duloc, 2013[12]).

Such major growth in infrastructure, besides the economic benefits it is expected to bring, will certainly have environmental and social effects, potentially damaging tropical environments with high biodiversity and environmental value (Alamgir et al., 2017[13]). For example, in Brazilian Amazonia, 95% of all deforestation occurs within 5.5 km of a paved or unpaved road (Dulac, n.d.[14]). The same trend has been found in other tropical and sub-tropical countries. In these regions, roads can also bring poachers and other undesirable activities including illicit mining, smuggling and drug production, and migrant movements that affect the often delicate balance of local communities, especially among isolated indigenous groups.

Such effects may touch upon the female population in these areas more than others, as women are often the main caretakers of small subsistence farms from which they may be displaced by road works. Women also often have specific roles in traditional societies such as gathering food and ingredients for medicines from forests which may be affected by infrastructure projects. They are affected most by human rights abuses (including sexual crimes and violence) and weak labour rights, safety and health risks caused by infrastructure projects (OHCHR and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, 2019[15]). Projects with a large influx of workers may increase the demand for sex work and the risks of gender-based violence (World Bank, 2018[16]).This is not only the case in least developed countries. Recent reports on the impact of hydro-electric projects in Manitoba, Canada, and in wind energy projects in Mexico, have been associated with increased numbers of sexual abuse and harassment (CBC, 2018[17]); (Castañeda Carney et al., 2020[18]).A key goal for policy makers should be to use the large and broad benefits of infrastructure projects to improve the economic opportunities and well-being of women, while tackling these potential risks at the project level. These impacts should be assessed and discussed upfront during the infrastructure investment decision-making process. Integrating gender into sustainable infrastructure policies could be advanced by considering the social and environmental spillovers of infrastructure projects to women.

Comprehensive, pre-construction social and environmental risk assessments with an integrated gender-sensitive analysis are essential to ensure effective management of these risks. Such assessments should examine the impact of infrastructure projects on the well-being of women living in communities. Unfortunately, both environmental impact assessments that take into account indirect risks (so-called strategic environmental assessments) and social risk analyses are expensive and therefore applied to only a minority of projects. As a minimum, government intervention is needed to ensure that such comprehensive assessments are carried out for the highest-risk projects, such as major roads cutting through forested regions and wetlands or communities. Furthermore, assessments need to be as independent as possible. In practice, their quality varies widely, as responsibility for choosing an evaluator often falls on the operator who may influence the consultant to ensure a lenient assessment.

Throughout the implementation of infrastructure projects in urban and rural areas, mitigation, reporting and monitoring require the development of specific gender indicators. These should reflect information on the role of women both as users, workers or entrepreneurs, and must also measure women’s organisational capacity, access to information and decision-making. Moreover, as highlighted in the World Bank’s Good Practice Note for addressing gender-based violence in major civil works, projects should include a response mechanism for gender-based violence cases that provides essential services for survivors and has effective and confidential reporting channels (World Bank, 2018[16]).

The private sector also has a key responsibility in mitigating and responding to social and environmental risks from their infrastructure investments and projects. The OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct2 should be promoted in infrastructure projects and related public procurement procedures to reinforce the social and environmental sustainability of such projects and to mitigate adverse impacts on gender equality and the environment.

Enhancing women’s access to communications infrastructure, from mobile to broadband networks, is crucial to ensuring that they can harness the benefits of the digital transformation. Access to digital networks increases economic opportunities and it may also help address environmental issues by, for example, facilitating teleworking and reducing the need for commuting.

Connectivity is not yet ubiquitous or evenly distributed by gender nor by geographic location. Surveys show that globally, women access the Internet less than men do, with 45% of women using the Internet compared to about 51% for men – which corresponds to having 250 million fewer women than men online (ITU, 2017[19]). In OECD countries, Internet usage among women in 2018 was at 86%, equal to that among men. However, even among some OECD countries, disparities persist. For instance, in Turkey, the gender gap was around 14 percentage points, with women having less access when compared to men (OECD, 2019[20]). Worldwide, women are on average 26% less likely than men to have a smartphone. In South Asia and Africa, these proportions stand at 70% and 34%, respectively. Worldwide, some 327 million fewer women than men have a smartphone and can access the mobile Internet (OECD, 2018[21]).

To ensure an inclusive digital transformation, it is essential to enhance access and reduce digital divides, including by age, education, gender, income, and geography, that persist across and within countries (OECD, 2020[22]). The 2016 OECD-IDB Latin America and the Caribbean Broadband Toolkit sets out a comprehensive agenda for policies that can help broaden access to digital technologies in the region, addressing both major supply and demand issues in a holistic and coherent manner (OECD/IDB, 2016[23]).

Several good practices exist in terms of promoting connectivity to rural populations, based on the experience and outcomes in OECD countries. Some effective options to improve access are to subsidise national and rural broadband networks, promote municipal networks and design competitive tenders for private sector network deployment and management, and to implement open access arrangements (OECD, 2018[24]). Beyond fostering sound regulatory frameworks, certain policies such as universal service frameworks and state aid mechanisms can help address the specific needs of women. Well-designed, appropriately located and affordably priced broadband infrastructure can be a powerful tool in the pursuit of gender equality.

Improving women’s access to communication networks and services can contribute substantially to greater gender equality. The use of the Internet, digital platforms, mobile phones and digital financial services, for example, can help women earn additional income, increase employment opportunities, and access knowledge and digital government services. In Australia, fast broadband connection at home has encouraged more people to work from home, access education, have smart devices in their homes, and to start their own business. The effects were found to be particularly strong in rural areas and for women. Upon the broadband roll-out, the number of self-employed women grew on average 2.3% every year, compared to only 0.1% on average in non-National Broadband Network areas (NBN, 2018[25]). The use of digital platforms has also helped reduce barriers to participation in the labour market for women, increasing flexibility and work-life balance, even though these are often linked to part-time employment (OECD, 2017[26]). Some of the benefits of increased flexibility, as well as of ‘teleworking’, are currently being tested during the COVID-19 pandemic, as extended lockdown periods are changing daily work- and family- life habits. Even though it has been argued that teleworking could both improve productivity, gender equality and work-life balance for both women and men in the long-run, it is yet to be determined whether these benefits are also applicable in the short-run (OECD, 2020[27]). Evidence from Germany before the COVID-19 pandemic show that teleworking was preferred by either men without children or by women with children. Irrespective of the case, teleworking is seen as a possible barrier for career advancement, an issue which could rather affect women more than men, due to existing biases (Zhang et al., 2020[28]). Mandatory teleworking as experienced currently, could also improve men's work-life balance in a way that they can contribute more easily in the home and reduce care burdens on women. Digital services can also facilitate the delivery of medical services, especially for elderly people in remote places, if accessibility is guaranteed (Taylor, 2015[29]).

A fundamental barrier for women to access the Internet is the lack of availability of broadband services. Policies to promote competition and private investment, as well as independent and evidence-based regulation, have been tremendously effective in extending coverage. Scarcely populated areas, such as rural areas, may be more challenging in terms of profitability for market players. In these cases, the cost of deploying some types of infrastructure may be high compared to the expected return on investment (OECD, 2018[24]). This can disproportionally affect more women in developing countries as they seem to surpass men located in rural areas in numbers, whereas working age men mainly tend to be in urban areas (UNDESA, 2018[30]). Affordability of communication services in both rural and urban areas is a challenge for all but also disproportionally affects more women and girls, and is one of the key hurdles in accessing Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) (OECD, 2018[21]). With it come difficulties to obtain health information and tele-health services, which remain crucial healthcare tools as illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to hurdles related to access, such as availability and affordability, women may also lack sufficient education and there may be inherent biases and socio-cultural norms that curtail their ability to benefit from the opportunities offered by the digital transformation (OECD, 2019[31]).

Safety-related issues are also one of the reasons leading families to oppose the use of the Internet or the ownership of a mobile phone for women and girls. For example, for women in China, Colombia and Mexico, harassment is a key concern and among the top barriers to owning and using a mobile phone. Women and girls using the Internet can be exposed to additional risks, including cyberstalking, online harassment or even sexual trafficking, and it thus becomes crucial to develop measures to protect and prevent gender-based violence online (GSMA, 2015[32]); (OECD, 2018[21]). The European Institute for Gender Equality estimates that 1 in 10 women have already experienced some form of cyber violence at the age of 15 (EIGE, 2017[33]). The paucity of data that exist calls for the need to collect harmonised data, on a recurrent basis, related to cyber violence against women and girls, for effective actions to be designed and implemented and progress monitored (c.f. (OECD, 2018[21])).

Enhanced and gender-sensitive applications on top of the infrastructure layer are critical, as are policy interventions addressing long-term structural biases. For example, applications (apps) such as the “SafetiPin” in India could contribute to addressing issues related to sexual harassment, and to improving security for women in India by helping them navigate the city with less risk (see section 5.4.3). In addition, similar apps could provide the aggregated data from its users to local governments and planners to improve services and make cities safer for women (SafetiPin, n.d.[34]).

Developing digital infrastructure could also support the empowerment of women in greener economic activities and enable them to tackle climate change. For instance, ICT can help farmers receive more accurate information on weather forecasts, climate trends and new production practices. The Shamba Shape-up broadcasts, viewed in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, provide practical information on how to improve farming practices and approaches, ranging from livestock health and agronomy to climate change adaptation. The broadcasts target mainly women farmers, as they are aired at times when women and children are at home. Through the broadcast’s website women and men are equally encouraged to share their experiences and ask for information. An impact evaluation has estimated that the net economic impact of the websites reached USD 25 million, mainly from dairy farming in which women are heavily engaged (World Bank Group, FAO and IFAD, 2015[35]).

Technology and innovation can also support women in rural areas by reducing the time spent in household chores, and thus providing women with free time to engage in other, income generating activities. A project promoting solar-powered drip irrigation systems in Benin found that introducing such an innovative and energy efficient solution provided food security and increased household income with the increase of production. The project benefited women and girls in rural off-grid areas, who are usually the ones both collecting water and, as smallholders or in charge of community gardens, facing higher risks in their production. Despite initial high investment costs, this type of technology has proved more cost-effective when compared to alternative technologies in the long-term (Burney et al., 2010[36]).

The OECD Analytical Database on Individual Multinationals and their Affiliates (ADIMA) shows that women are under-represented in boardrooms across all industries, although there has been some improvement in recent years. Women make up only 16% of board members in the top 500 multinational enterprises (MNEs) (by market capital) according to ADIMA, with shares as low as 12% in the technology sector (Figure 9.1) (OECD, n.d.[37]).

Whilst a number of national and indeed international efforts to improve female participation exist (e.g. The G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance (OECD, 2015[38])), gaps remain across all countries, although they are smaller – but still significantly large – in countries that have introduced specific policies, such as quotas (see also the OECD Corporate Governance Factbook, 2019 (OECD, 2019[39])).

There is a similar gender gap in self-employment and entrepreneurship. For instance, in the European Union (EU), less than one in ten (9.6%) working women were self-employed in 2018, significantly below the share for men (16.9%). Although this gender gap has closed slightly over the past decade, it is due to a decline in the number of self-employed men. Over the period 2014-18, 5.3% of women across OECD economies were actively working to start a business, compared to 7.9% of men (OECD/European Union, 2019[40]).

Women face several barriers to entrepreneurship, notably in the area of perceived skills and risk aversion. Over the 2014-2018 period, only 37.7% of women in OECD countries reported they had the knowledge and skills to start a business, compared to about half of men. Furthermore, women in OECD countries were more likely to indicate a fear of failure than men (42.2% vs. 36%). The gap was greater in EU countries, and non-existent in Korea, Japan and Israel (OECD/European Union, 2019[40]).

There are many examples of how greater gender equality in senior management in industry and infrastructure can help bring about a faster move towards sustainability. Using a dataset of all Fortune 500 CEOs and boards of directors for a ten-year period, (Glass, Cook and Ingersoll, 2016[41]) find that firms characterised by gender diverse leadership teams are more effective than other firms at pursuing environmentally friendly strategies (Chapter 2).

Women can play an active role in decision making related to digital infrastructure and help shape the future digital landscape. However, women are currently under-represented in ICT jobs and top management, and men are four times more likely than women to be ICT specialists. In OECD countries on average, only 0.5% of girls at 15 years of age wish to become ICT professionals, compared to 5% of boys (OECD, 2018[21]). Perhaps, unsurprisingly, there are also fewer female entrepreneurs in the ICT sector – and those women that do start ICT businesses face socio-cultural gender biases when raising capital (OECD/European Union, 2019[40]).

Yet, women can be crucial contributors to expanding access and use of broadband networks in underserved areas. In India, Wireless for Communities (W4C) fostered the creation of barefoot women network engineers and wireless women entrepreneurs in communities to help transfer knowledge and develop local content. This project helped to raise women’s empowerment and to create safe spaces, while also making these networks more socially viable by demystifying technology and transferring the control, management and ownership of the technologies to the community (Srivastava, 2018[42]).

In OECD countries it is equally imperative to support women’s engagement in leading green business initiatives. For instance, the Canadian government has made significant investments to increase the consideration of gender diversity in environmental issues. Under Impact Canada, a government-wide initiative, the Women in CleanTech Challenge was created to help support the creation of six, highly impactful clean technology companies to be led by women. Each entrepreneur receives more than USD 600K over a period of 2.5 years, which cover business incubation support, science and technology support from federal laboratories, as well as an annual stipend for living and travel expenses, allowing women to dedicate themselves fully to their business ventures (OECD, 2020[43]).

Science is fundamental in informing environmental management. Ensuring the sustainable management of ecosystems will require massive progress in science and innovative technologies. The digital transformation under way and the related advances in biology and materials science have a tremendous potential to help tackle the negative side-effects of economic activity, including climate change and pollution, as well as improve the management of natural resources and ecosystems and support biodiversity. The application of artificial intelligence is also bringing about a transformation in research and innovation, and could become an important tool in environmental management. According to the 2018 OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook, the national government budget for research and development (R&D) on issues relating to environmental concerns has been steadily increasing over the past 35 years (OECD, 2018[44]).

Women’s participation in sciences and innovation can both enrich the outcomes and help overturn long-held beliefs and social norms regarding their role. For instance, there is a well-established research field on male-female differences in cognitive thinking and socio-emotional skills. An often quoted generalisation that men are better at analytical thinking while women score better at empathy was demonstrated in one study on newborn babies conducted in 2000 (Connellan et al., 2000[45]). However, when scrutinised by female researchers, they found that the research methodology of the study did not meet psychological research standards and the results may simply have reflected the social and cultural gender biases of researchers rather than a biological reality (Nash and Grossi, 2007[46]).

Women’s participation in science can also change the quality and outcomes of research beyond human sciences. To illustrate, female evolutionary biologists have changed the way a species behaviour is interpreted. A study undertaken in Sweden shows that academic literature on the traits and behaviours of animals and plants in sexual conflicts is often framed from a human viewpoint, the male often described as proactively searching for a partner, and the female as the passive one reflecting certain societal norms, but such frames may affect research conclusions (Karlsson Green and Madjidian, 2011[47]). Beyond evolutionary biology, it is difficult to assess how women’s presence could change the outcomes of research due to their limited participation.

The digital transformation of science is also bringing to the forefront differences in the way male and female scientists conduct scientific research. Under the OECD International Survey of Scientific Authors, female authors are less likely to use advanced tools and data or code sharing practices compared to their male colleagues. On the contrary, they appear more willing to engage in activities relating to their digital identity or to share information about their work online.3

Women are under-represented in most STEM-related professions, despite the fact that girls do as good as or even better than boys in these fields at school (Stoet and Geary, 2018[50]). Based on 2016 data, in OECD countries, only one third of graduates in natural sciences, engineering and ICTs were women (Figure 9.2). Such a large gap among graduates drives the gender gap for professionals in these fields (Box 9.1). The gender disparities in science-related careers may also be affected by other factors, such as women’s additional household and caring responsibilities that may create barriers to career advancement, or biased performance evaluation which is often influenced by gender stereotypes on women’s abilities in STEM, as well as the lack of women in high ranking positions (OECD, 2018[51]).

An OECD report proposed a first-time analysis of the participation of women in science and technology developments, especially those related to the digital transformation. An analysis of the extent to which women contribute to developing patentable inventions and open-source software shows that women’s participation in inventive activities has been increasing over the last 15 years, although at a very slow pace. Female participation in patenting activities has increased at a faster pace than the average rate at which all patent applications grew over the period 2004-15, – and in ICTs it increased relatively more than in all other technological domains (OECD, 2018[21]).

Women’s participation has grown remarkably in many technology domains, as reflected in patent applications globally. For instance, in Canada, compared with the 1980s, there are now four times more patents including at least one woman inventor and five times more in the case of ICTs (Canadian Intellectual Property Office., 2017[52]).

Still, the gender gap remains significant. The percentage of women participating (as professionals and technicians) in technology development (inventive activity) remains low, reaching only 15% on average across all countries and all technology domains worldwide (Figure 9.3). There is a relatively higher participation observed for chemistry and health-related technologies (20% and 24% respectively), while environment-related technologies are just below the average participation and the rate is even lower for power generation and general engineering technologies (10% and 8% respectively).

Within the range of environment-related inventions, there are important variations both in the levels and in their growth rates (Figure 9.4). Women’s participation is higher in some of the relatively new domains such as climate change adaptation technologies and solar photovoltaics, which is in contrast to domains such as climate change mitigation technologies in transport and wind power where there is a persistently low rate of women inventors. The latter could be partly explained by the need for engineering skills for developing many transport and wind power technologies. Moreover, road transport in particular is a domain where more inclusiveness efforts might be needed.

Differences in women’s involvement across these domains could be explained by their traditionally rather low participation in STEM courses, and this trend is likely to continue: the OECD 2020 PISA report shows that among students who score highly in the PISA tests, it is overwhelmingly boys who more often expect to work in science and engineering (Mann et al., 2020[54]).

Greater inclusion of women in inventive activities is good not only for women themselves, but also good for stronger economic growth and enhanced societal well-being. Evidence shows that inventions arising out of mixed teams, or women-only groups, appear to have wider technological breadth (and may therefore be more economically valuable) and higher impact from a technological viewpoint than those in which only men are involved (OECD, 2018[21]).

Despite being able to bring value for all, the presence of women also remains scarce in a fundamental component of the digital economy: software and algorithms. Analysis focusing on one well-known open-source software (R) shows that software remains very much a male-dominated world, especially in companies. Women are few and far between in the software world: of the top 1 000 software package contributors, only 92 were women. Women also play a relatively less important role, with many of them less connected to the network of software developers than their male colleagues. Especially in companies, very few (15%) female software (R) authors can be found (OECD, 2018[21]).

Greater efforts to tackle gender skills gaps in green innovation are also needed in developing countries. USAID, for instance, is providing financial support to researchers in developing countries. Through the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), these researchers are linked with major academic institutions and research in the United States in the fields of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Researchers receive help to build capacity and produce new research to fill existing knowledge gaps. Half of the researchers supported through PEER are women (USAID, 2020[55]).

A number of actions are needed to integrate a gender lens in these domains:

  • Ensure that the application of responsible business conduct and due diligence in supply chains in environment-sensitive sectors address gender impacts, in particular on the labour rights and health conditions of women. OECD standards, in particular the MNE Guidelines and the Recommendation on Responsible Business Conduct, call for specific consideration of gender issues.

  • Ensure that major infrastructure projects undergo an independent, comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment that includes a gender angle, that there are gender-responsive monitoring and evaluation indicators in place, and that there is consultation with potentially affected groups, including women groups, in line with the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment and the OECD Recommendation for the Governance of Infrastructure.

  • Develop a more inclusive digital infrastructure by enhancing access and reducing digital divides for women, especially in rural areas.

  • Consider mechanisms, including quotas and affirmative measures, for increased participation by women in senior management positions in industry and infrastructure. Specific measures that are applicable in favour of groups in situations of discrimination should also be considered.

  • Develop programmes to increase the uptake of scientific research and innovation by women, and to tackle the barriers to their participation in STEM subjects.


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[52] Canadian Intellectual Property Office. (2017), Women’s participation in patenting : an analysis of Patent Cooperation Treaty applications originating in Canada., Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

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← 1. Canada states that the Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) is a process “that provides a rigorous method for the assessment of systemic inequalities, as well as a means to assess how diverse groups of women, men, and gender diverse people may experience policies, programs and initiatives” (Government of Canada, n.d.[56])

← 2. http://mneguidelines.oecd.org/OECD-Due-Diligence-Guidance-for-Responsible-Business-Conduct.pdf.

← 3. http://oe.cd/issa.

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