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IWD 2024: Why real equity needs to be the goal in emerging tech
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

Emerging tech is an opportunity to reimagine and rethink the way things are and to innovate in a way that enhances and complements our uniquely human qualities, but without equitable access these new techs could exacerbate existing social and economic divides says Datacom’s Tracey Cotter-Martin.

Understanding emerging tech and its potential applications in our lives is a big part of the work my team does.

Within this remit, we often find ourselves debating not just how emerging tech can be harnessed but what the wider context for its successful use needs to be. What sort of resources will be required, and what does the environment around this emerging tech need to look like? And, critically, what is the impact we are trying to create with the use of this technology?

Issues relating to access, education and experience – and ultimately equity – are frequently part of the wider discussion about the potential of emerging technologies.

Emerging technologies and the innovation and breakthroughs that come with them make for exciting headlines and often kick off a wave of product development, but we need to keep sight of the big goals: emerging tech needs to be harnessed to solve real human problems and to do it in a way that is smarter, simpler and more impactful than the solutions that have come before it.

On International Women’s Day, as the world’s attention turns to our collective journey towards a more gender-equal world, it feels fitting to highlight why equitable access is such an important foundation for the emerging technologies that are becoming part of our lives.

The most obvious is that emerging technologies have the power to address inequity and to support inclusion and diversity of thought – or they can cement the gaps and increase the divide. We need to get it right.

Equality versus equity is not a new discussion, but it is particularly pertinent in the field of emerging tech. Where equality says we all get the same resources, equity takes account of the individual’s circumstances and assigns the resources needed for an equal outcome.

The arrival of generative AI tools like ChatGPT has been hailed as a win for the democratisation of tech. It’s true that anyone can use ChatGPT: access is free, and it is open to all.  But not everyone has ready access to a tech device or network to explore ChatGPT, and not everyone comes to the tool with the necessary expertise or experience to take full advantage of its generative functions.

Even “free” access to new tech does not translate to equality, and it falls well short of equity.

It also needs to be recognised that the tech sector that is helping to build and refine these technologies has its own issues around equity and diversity.

The number of women in tech is growing but it is still low: across the sector women still make up only 31% of the workforce.

These numbers are worse in some of the areas where emerging technologies are more prevalent, too. The current gender balance in cybersecurity is 13% female to 87% male, in artificial intelligence it is 20% female to 80% male, and in cloud computing 15% female to 85% male.

That gender imbalance is confronting, and it should be. 

It seems obvious, but worth stating that the teams developing the tech of tomorrow should be more representative of the people and communities that will be using this tech.

At Datacom, we are working on creating new pathways that make a career in tech more accessible for people who have traditionally been underrepresented in the sector.

We understand the challenge is to innovate for a sustainable future, and without diverse thought – and the constructive challenge that comes with diversity – that challenge becomes much harder to address.