Gender biases on social media deter girls from tech jobs — Unesco

A new report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) shines the spotlight on the role of technology in deterring girls from careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). 

The report highlights the gender bias of technology, given that the industry is male-dominated. In addition, the content generated is predominantly from a male perspective that reinforces gender stereotypes. These in turn keep girls away from the very same careers that need to be transformed.   

Social media content amplifies gender biases

The Global Monitoring Report 2024, titled “Technology in her terms” shows how algorithm-driven, image-based content especially on social media amplifies gender biases. These  have a negative effect on the wellbeing, learning and career choices of girls. The content, the report says, ranges from sexual content to videos that glorify unhealthy behaviours. They also glorify unrealistic body standards.

“Exposure [to such content] can have particularly detrimental effects on girls’ self-esteem and body image. In turn, this impacts girls’ mental health and wellbeing, which are essential for academic success,” says the report.

Girls are discouraged from studying STEM subjects

“All these factors create a feedback loop …  in which girls are steered away from studying STEM subjects. These are considered male-oriented fields. And [the girls] are deprived of the opportunity to shape the very tools that expose them to these stereotypes.” 

According to statistics provided by Unesco in the report, women make up 35% of tertiary STEM graduates around the world. This is a figure which it says has not changed in the past 10 years.  It says this shows that persistent biases deter women from pursuing STEM careers. This ultimately results in a lack of women in the technology workforce.

Citing research from Facebook, 32% of teenage girls said Instagram made them feel worse when they felt bad about their bodies. This according to the report.

Girls suffer more cyberbullying than boys

The report also reveals that girls also suffer more cyberbullying than boys. This is compounded by the rise of image-based sexual content. Also the rise of AI-generated deepfakes and self-generated sexual imagery circulating online and in classrooms.

“Children’s social lives are increasingly playing out on social media. But all too often, algorithm-driven platforms amplify exposure to negative gender norms,” said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of Unesco in a media release.

“Ethical considerations must be taken into account in the design of these platforms. Social media should not confine women and girls to roles that limit their educational and career aspirations.” 

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