Equality Report of the Federal Government

Digitization and gender equality – (also) a question of technology assessment 

In April 2019, Federal Minister Franziska Giffey appointed the Expert Commission for the Third Equality Report. In this report, the Commission deals with the question of which course of action is necessary to shape developments in the digital economy in such a way that women and men have equal chances of achieving equality. To this end, the Commission has obtained scientific expertise. Diana Hummel and Immanuel Stieß from ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research together with Arn Sauer from the Federal Environment Agency have examined the significance of gender in technology assessment in the field of digitization. 

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Voice assistant concept on smartphone (© bestforbest)
Voice assistant concept on smartphone (© bestforbest)

Digitization is taking place at a rapid pace, and its effects on almost all areas of social life are simultaneously becoming apparent with gender relations also being affected. Whether digitization will reinforce existing structures of inequality or whether it offers an opportunity for greater gender equality is a question that Technology Assessment must consider. But how can the perspective of gender equality be adopted in a scientific based impact assessment? 

In their expertise “Technology Assessment and Gender: Stocktaking and Identification of Discourse Interfaces with a Special Focus on Digitization”, Diana Hummel and Immanuel Stieß from ISOE, together with Arn Sauer from the Federal Environment Agency in collaboration with Anna Kirschner examine how the impacts of digitization on society can be assessed from a gender perspective. The focus is mainly on expert debates on digitization and gender in the German-speaking discourse. They analyze the impetus that this debate will give to the topic of “Equality in digitization” and illustrate the processes and instruments to be used for this purpose.

Equality assessment: Considering the connections between gender and other factors of social inequality 

The authors show that a gender impact assessment in the field of digitization should take into account the heterogeneity of the characteristic gender: It should acknowledge different genders ('male, female, diverse'), in order to consider the diversity of gendered identities. Moreover, gender should be conceived as an interdependent category, accounting for possible interactions between the category “gender” and other factors of social inequality such as age, education, income, or physical constitution. 

Part of the expertise is a detailed overview of practical examples and case studies with a focus on digitization, especially on robotics, software development for various applications, artificial intelligence and algorithms. These practical examples are systematically evaluated, using the concept of gender dimensions as an analytical framework The gender dimensions are related to specific areas of life, such as care or labour economy, that are critical for the production and reproduction of unequal gender relations. This conceptual framework is borrowed from a Gender Impact Assessment (GIA) tool developed for climate policy, which also provides useful orientation for the assessing the gendered impacts of digitization.

Practical examples and case studies: The added value of gender analyses

This way, existing studies of technology assessment can be reassessed on the basis of the gender dimensions. An example: Digital assistance systems for private households are often programmed with a female voice, because this gendered voice is expected to obtain high acceptance among both men and women. On the one hand, the representation of digital assistants as feminine and caring creates trust in the digital machine, but on the other hand gender stereotypes are thus inscribed and reproduced which in extreme cases could promote sexist devaluation.

With the evaluated practical examples and case studies, the expertise illustrates the added value of gender analyses and shows that the relationships between gender asymmetries and processes of technology development and design can only be grasped through a multidimensional analysis. Against this background, the expertise formulates recommendations of how gender can be introduced in a technology assessment on digitization. A central recommendation is to involve potential users in the development process in order to do justice to the diverse realities of life for different genders. It is also important to ensure sufficient gender competence on the part of both the persons implementing the technology assessment and the technology developers themselves. 

Click here for the expertise (only available in German):

Technikfolgenabschätzung und Geschlecht: Bestandsaufnahme und Identifizierung von Diskursschnittstellen mit besonderem Fokus auf Digitalisierung (Technology Assessment and Gender: Stocktaking and identification of discourse interfaces with a special focus on digitization). Expertise of Diana Hummel, Immanuel Stieß and Arn Sauer in collaboration with Anna Kirschner

Scientific contact:

Dr. Diana Hummel
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-33

Press contact:

Melanie Neugart
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-51