Shaping digitalisation towards gender equality

Overview of the Expert Opinion for the Third Gender Equality Report

This text provides you with a brief overview of structure and central contents of the Expert Opinion for the Third Gender Equality Report. For more detail please refer to our brochure “Shaping digitalisation in a gender-equitable way – Summary of the Expert Opinion of the Third Gender Equality Report of the Federal Government” from which the illustration by Ka Schmitz and Imke Schmidt-Sári (in German) is taken.


Introduction (Chapter A)

In each legislative period, the German Federal Government presents a report on gender equality. Each of these Gender Equality Reports consists of the Expert Opinion of an independent Expert Commission and the Federal Government’s statement on the recommendations given by the commission. The government’s statement also includes a stocktaking and review of the implementation of the recommendations from the previous Gender Equality Report (background information on the Gender Equality Reports).

A commission of eleven experts under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Aysel Yollu-Tok has prepared the Expert Opinion for the Third Gender Equality Report over the past two years and handed it over to Federal Minister for Equal Opportunities Franziska Giffey on 26 January 2021 (in German).

This Expert Opinion for the Third Gender Equality Report is entitled “Shaping digitalisation towards gender equality”. The Federal Government’s mandated brief for the report read: “What course needs to be set in order to shape developments in the digital economy in a way that women and men have equal capabilities?”

The analyses and recommendations for action refer to different areas in which digitalisation is relevant. The Expert Commission structures them according to an “onion model”: from the digital industry as the driver of digitalisation on the very inside of the onion, through the digital economy – for example the platform economy – and the digitalised economy, to the outer onion layer digitalisation of society, where phenomena such as social media and gender-based digital violence are considered. In addition, there is a look at gender equality policy structures and instruments as a “breeding ground” for a gender equality-oriented design of digitalisation within the individual onion layers.

The Expert Commission’s guiding principle is a society with equal capabilities for all people, regardless of their gender.

The Expert opinion adopts a consistent socio-technical perspective. This means that technological developments must always be considered, assessed, and actively shaped in their respective social context. When it comes to access to, use and design of digitalisation processes, gender equality plays a central role.


Digital industry (Chapter B.I)

At the core of the onion is the digital industry, often also referred to as information and communication technology. In this field, digital technologies – i.e. products like computer hardware and software as well as network infrastructure – are being produced.

The digital industry continues to be strongly male-dominated. More than 80 per cent of employees are male (on average 17 per cent female). Moreover, women rarely ascend to (top) management levels; and they leave the industry significantly more often than men. The share of women is also low when it comes to start-ups and business formation in the digital industry.

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends, among other things, removing barriers to access. To achieve this, the prevailing work culture must become more open. It is not the women who have to change, but the companies (“fix the company” instead of “fix the women”). Start-up support programmes must be evaluated and geared more towards benefiting everyone.

The digital industry is the driver of digitalisation. The technology developed in this field plays a decisive role in determining the future shape of digitalisation.

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends, among other things, including multifaceted perspectives in the development of digital technology. This is to do justice to a diverse society. Methods for gender-responsive and non-discriminatory IT systems must be standardised and systematically implemented for practical use.


Digital economy (Chapter B.II)

The digital economy comprises the activities and business models that have only become possible thanks to technologies produced in the digital industry, for example the platform economy, which brings along new forms of work. Examples are ride or meal delivery services that can be booked online, or micro-jobs that are brokered online, for instance copywriting.

From the perspective of a worker, platform work seemingly offers some advantages: The work can be done flexibly in terms of time and is often not tied to a specific location. It thus potentially facilitates the reconciliation of paid work and unpaid care work, e.g. when re-entering work. However, the Expert Opinion also points out problems with platform work. For instance, workers are usually classified as solo self-employed and not as employees. Therefore, they often lack social security provisions. The precarious situation of platform workers also exacerbates risks such as low incomes, experiences of violence and sexual harassment. In addition, the workers do usually not receive employment/qualification certificates.

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends, among other things, that the social security of platform workers be regulated and that they be better protected against discrimination. In addition, they must be able to make use of the professional competences they have acquired on platforms when applying for “offline jobs”. For this, such competences must become demonstratable and certifiable.


Digitalised economy (Chapter B.III)

The digitalised economy includes all economic activities in which information and communication technologies are used – and which are changed by these technologies. Examples are digital warehouse management, self-service checkouts in supermarkets, or electronic documentation systems in care work.

The digitalisation of the labour market can be an opportunity to achieve equal capabilities for all, independent of gender. Methods of gender-equitable job evaluation are a key to this, if they are used systematically and compulsorily.

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends, among other things, making visible those digitalisation-related competences that already exist and are used in the different occupations. So far, these often factor too little into job evaluations, especially in fields such as care work, where they have so far hardly been recognised. In addition, competences perceived as typically “female” (such as psychosocial skills) need to be adequately taken into account and rewarded accordingly.

In order for people to be able to cope in an increasingly digitalised society and to actively shape it, they need more digitalisation-related skills and competences. These include, for example, the ability to search for information online and to classify this information in terms of its reliability and credibility, knowledge about communication, cooperation, and the functioning of political participation via digital channels, the production of digital audio and video formats, a basic understanding of the functioning, programming, and limits of information technology systems as well as rules and laws regarding data and privacy protection.

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends, among other things, removing gender-related barriers that impede or even prevent access to such competences. This applies to all levels of education and across the entire life course, from early childhood education to advanced (vocational) training. In addition, the National Skills Strategy (“Weiterbildungsstrategie”) should be expanded to include gender equality objectives.

New methods, such as the use of algorithms in staff selection, are accompanied by considerable discrimination risks. The functioning of systems that are supposed to support staffing decisions is difficult to monitor: What criteria decide, for example, when a system automatically discards an application; or which people are specifically shown job advertisements on social media?

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends, among other things, that the use of algorithmic systems in staff decisions be included in the list of processes for which a data protection impact assessment must be carried out. In the case of automated systems, transparency must be ensured and complete automation must be prohibited.

The possibilities, but also the risks, of remote work must be considered in a differentiated manner. The dissolution of boundaries between paid employment and (unpaid) care work must not exacerbate existing gender inequalities.

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends that the following be regulated with regard to remote work, among other measures: legal entitlement, voluntariness, occupational health and safety, data protection, protection against discrimination, workplace equipment, accident insurance, and tax deductibility.


Digitalisation of society (Chapter B.IV)

By taking into account the digitalisation of society, the Expert Commission expands the perspective beyond economics. After all, digital technologies permeate the entire social life.

Social media is a relatively new and strongly growing but nonetheless little researched phenomenon. They do not represent the genuine diversity of people, but rather convey gender stereotypes for the most part.

  • The Expert Commission recommends therefore stronger promotion of diverse gender images within social media, among other measures. To do so, it is important to support positive examples, to change production cultures and to expand media literacy and education.

Gender-based digital violence occurs in all areas of society and goes far beyond violence in social media. Many forms or instruments with which gender-based violence is perpetrated have only been made possible by digitalisation. One could think of stalking apps, for example. Therefore, one may speak of a new quality of violence – which creates new challenges.  

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends, among other things, improving protection and support against gender-based digital violence. To this end, gaps at knowledge nodes must be closed, including in specialised counselling centres, but also within the police force, courts, law enforcement agencies, and in the administration.

Basic data protection and communication rights should ensure that all people, regardless of gender, can participate equally in social life. The use of personal data must not lead to (gender-related) discrimination. The state is obliged to protect against discrimination by private actors.

  • The Expert Commission therefore recommends, among other things, that the foundations of democratic, liberal, and non-discriminatory capabilities be secured. To this end, data protection, privacy, informational self-determination, and IT security must each be ascribed high values and be enforced accordingly.


Gender equality policy structures and instruments (Chapter C)

Gender equality policy structures and instruments create framework conditions for the actual implementation of equal capabilities. This also applies in the context of digitalisation. In this sense, these structures and instruments constitute the “breeding ground” that feeds the “onion” of a gender equality-oriented digitalisation.

The digital transformation process affects people’s lives; questions of existing gender inequalities arise in a new and different way. Promoting equal capabilities for all people in this process is an urgent and challenging task. Existing gender equality policy instruments and structures must therefore be used effectively and adapted if necessary. These instruments include: interdepartmental strategies, gender budgeting or equality-oriented law and technology assessments, as well as institutions that support the transfer of knowledge about equality and equity. The Expert Commission therefore recommends, amongst others:

  • Gender equality and digitalisation should be more closely linked and considered together in a strategic perspective (e.g. in an interdepartmental Gender Equality Strategy (“Gleichstellungsstrategie”) or the national implementation strategy “Shaping digitalisation” (“Digitalstrategie”)).
  • Digitalisation-related expenditure in the 2021 federal budget should definitely be examined within the framework of a gender budgeting analysis – and the findings be consistently realised and implemented.
  • Gender equality-oriented impact assessments should be strengthened and made more binding. In the context of digitalisation, gender-competent technology assessment is particularly gaining in importance.
  • The envisioned Federal Foundation for Gender Equality should have a digitalisation unit as well as adequate staff and resources for its tasks.