How the correct use of data could end discrimination

Making Data Work for Women in Business

As the World Wide Head of Print Communications at HP in Silicon Valley, I am fortunate to be in a position where gender equality is a reality. HP is fully committed to it and has taken very active steps to ensure its implementation. Unfortunately, there are many more women around the world that don’t have the same opportunities available to them, which is one of the leading causes of gender inequality.

Only a few decades ago, there weren’t many women who worked outside of the home. A man’s perceived role was as the provider and the producer. The productive bread winner of the family. By comparison, a woman’s perceived role was as a homemaker and the reproducer. Raising kids and looking after the home and the family were the expectations of a woman’s role.

These stereotypical views of men’s and women’s roles actually made women seem more dependent and significantly less productive than they really are. The same perceived stereotypes still linger in the minds of some people even to this day, to the point that women are often ignored, overlooked or discriminated against when it comes to data in business and productivity levels.

Many women are disadvantaged in the workforce due to lower education levels than their male counterparts. The result leaves many women workers in menial or informal jobs, including cleaning, piece-work, small traders or casual laborers, this type of work also translates to women receiving lower earnings, irregular hour, less job security and fewer benefits overall.

Using Data to Close the Gender Gap

At the 2016 Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Melinda Gates from the Gates Foundation said,” We can’t close the gender gap without first closing the data gap.” What did she mean by that?

There are many examples of how data is profoundly helping to extend the reach and scale of our work. Data is helping to expand digital finance to women in rural India. It’s helping to target HIV prevention and treatment to adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa. Data is also helping us get back on track with our shared goal to expand access to contraceptives to 120 million more women in 69 of the world’s poorest countries by 2020. And access to contraception is one of the great equalizers.

Data also shows us that nearly 25 million more women globally now use modern contraceptives than were using them in 2013. The same data also shows that almost as many young girls attend primary school now as boys.

These figures and statistics illustrate that significant progress has been made in terms of gender equality in recent decades. However, there is still a long way to go.

The key to closing that gender gap is to gather and analyze data that could hopefully make the invisible visible.

Discrimination in Data Collecting

Have you noticed how discussions about reducing poverty tend to focus on economic growth ideas? It’s time to approach it differently When those ideas are put forward the data used tends to recognize only productive work or roles where people are paid for services to make things.

Traditionally labor force surveys only focus on the primary income-earning activity within a household. Yet in Uganda, a survey was circulated asking questions about secondary activities and other non-productive work, including subsistence farming, cleaning or cooking. When secondary activities were taken into accounts as being a contributing factor in the overall economy, Uganda’s workforce suddenly increased by 700,000 people, and interestingly enough, the majority of which were women.

Those women had always been there. They were just invisible due to the type of data being collected.

Women’s Contributions to Business

According to figures available from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), more than 11.6 million in the U.S. are owned by women. Those businesses are responsible for $1.7 trillion in sales, and they employ almost 9 million people. It’s also interesting to note that one in five firms in the U.S. with revenues greater than $1 million per year are owned by women.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor also who that nearly 47% of all workers in the country are women. The same data also shows that working moms are now becoming the norm, with 70% of mothers witch children under 18 in some type of paid employment.

Greater access to education for women has also seen the number of women with college degrees in the labor force quadruple since 1970.

Despite the increase in education levels and the number of women actively working in the labor force, they are still under-represented in many executive roles. Only 6.6% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women.

Using Data to Close the Gender Inequality Gap

To truly begin closing the gender gap, it may be necessary first to identify the existing constraints placed on women. It’s also essential to view the opportunities available to women.  At HP, we are genuinely committed.

At HP, we are reinventing ratios.

Our Board of directors consists of 45% Women and 55% of minorities.

Our US New Hires are 62% women, minorities, veterans, people with disabilities.

Women in Leadership program has resulted in a 6% increase in % of women director and above since 2015, and we hope to lead the way for others to follow suit.

Unfortunately, there are still too many areas in which the data doesn’t exist. In those places where the data does exist, it’s either sexist or excludes women completely undervaluing their contributions to the economy and their community.

Data alone doesn’t have the power to close the gender gap, but it does have the ability to illuminate the depth of inequality many women face. When the valid data is collected, it can then be used to influence decision making and may even help to improve visibility for women.


Vanessa Yanez -World Wide Head of Print Communications at HP – San Francisco Bay Area. Find Vanessa Yanez on LinkedIn.

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