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Dr Natasha Katuta Mwila

The description of current and future trends in any sphere of business is incomplete without acknowledging the role and impact of digital technology. Over this unprecedented period of lockdowns and physical shut downs, digital technology has proved a vital life line for businesses all over the world. I have marvelled at how quickly businesses have adapted to embrace digital technology, but equally mused over whether the results of this embrace are all good, particularly for our women run enterprises.

Let’s look at the data.

The Good:
1. In emerging contexts where barriers around tradition, culture and mobility may persist, digital technologies may offer women the potential to bypass some of them (Sorgner & Krieger-Boden, 2020).
2. With digital technology, women may have easier access to information and markets as well as wider reach to customers.
3. Digital entrepreneurship requires marketing, social selling, and peer-to-peer support- elements that women entrepreneurs engage in whether online or offline.

The Bad:
1. Digital technology is creating new entrepreneurial opportunities but the majority of women entrepreneurs lack
adequate background in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to take full advantage of the opportunities. In the United States, only 28% of positions in STEM are held by women (US Labor Force Statistics, 2019). I can only assume that the picture is worse off in the emerging contexts.

2. Because social inequalities still exist, digital entrepreneurship has been found to intensify the strain of work-life balance particularly for mothers. Martinez (2021) describes this as having businesses that are open 24/7.
3. In as much as I would like to ponder over the wonderful opportunities that lie in wait, I cannot ignore the fact that many women in emerging contexts still lack access to basic mobile phones, let alone, internet connectivity. Hunt (2016) estimates this figure to be just under 2 billion without mobile phones and 50% of those without internet access. We need to get the basics right.

Inspiring Case Examples:
I found these feature stories inspiring and I hope you do too https://startups.co.uk/entrepreneurs/digital-female-entrepreneurs-uk/

My final thoughts:

There is a gender digital divide and with all things 4IR and beyond I am concerned about women being left behind, yet again. Optimists have spoken of the irreplaceable soft skills that women have that should keep them going in the digital age. I don’t think that is good enough. We need to aspire to thrive and not just survive.

Affordability, relevance of content and digital skills have been cited by several scholars and practitioners as contributing to the gender divide. In the short-term, upskilling is one way I see out of it. In the medium term, I see the cost of digital technologies falling even further than they have over time. This should improve affordability. In the long term, with more women hopefully becoming creators of content in digital technologies, we may have more relevant tools for women in the space.

And with that here are a few resources to get women entrepreneurs interested in gaining a technological advantage started:

If you are in the Midlands of the United Kingdom, and identify as Black or Afro-Caribbean consider joining our REBOUND Project at De Montfort University- designed to equip small and medium businesses with the skills I have discussed here and in my last blog on Covid-19 and BREXIT. Facilitated by a passionate group of cross faculty academics (including myself), this is not one to be missed. The free training and networking sessions will hold over several weeks between February and April 2021. Sign up today using the “register link” on the website.
https://rebound-network.com/

Other free online courses can be found right here!
https://www.futurelearn.com/career-advice/grow-your-digital-skills

And also here
https://learndigital.withgoogle.com/digitalgarage/courses

Stay safe, keep well and be kind to others.

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