Online inclusion: why digital skills are the future
The importance of digital connectivity is huge but, says Anna Lungley, Global Head of Social Impact at Dentsu Aegis Network, millions of people are still unable to get online. Here, she argues that advertising needs to help give the next generation the right digital tools, and not just for the industry's own sake.
While shops may be shut and millions are now working from the discomfort of their kitchen tables, having a pandemic in the digital age has helped businesses to function and consumer habits to shift relatively seamlessly online.
Never before have we seen just how important digital connections are, and how powerful technology can be as the facilitator. However, this global pandemic, and our resulting reliance on technology to work, shop and seek information, has resurfaced an issue that many might have thought had been addressed.
Income, education and geography are all factors associated with digital exclusion and, in many cases, it's systemic.
The digital divide is more prevalent today than ever before. In the UK alone, five million people have never accessed the internet and 12 million don’t have the skills to use it. That number increases to over three billion globally. Our own research at Dentsu Aegis on digital inclusion also highlights that people are increasingly concerned about the impact of digitisation on future jobs and worry about having the relevant skills and opportunities to succeed.
Who falls behind gets left behind
The digital divide cannot be attributed to one issue; rather, like many social challenges, it compounds existing inequalities in an alarming way. Income, education and geography are all factors associated with digital exclusion and, in many cases, it's systemic. While brands like Audible may be providing free educational services, around 700,000 children without regular internet access have been unable to access such services and complete school work for the last three months and they will carry this disadvantage through to their adult years.
The reality is that the gap that exclusion creates will only expand. According to our Digital Society Index, which measures inclusion in the digital economy, 57% of respondents believe the pace of technological change is too fast. This pace contributes to people’s sense of disempowerment and lack of agency over one of the most powerful trends reshaping how we live and work. If this is left to continue unabated, the digital economy that emerges from the other side will lack diversity and will ultimately not reflect the society it is supposed to serve.
Overcoming the barrier
The consequences of these insights are profound. As an industry, it is not enough to just create the opportunities to enter the digital economy, we need to ensure that we also clear the path to those opportunities and make our digital infrastructure accessible to all. By sharing our skills and capabilities with the most disadvantaged groups, we can equip them with the tools to thrive in an increasingly digital world.
The ad industry is powerful, and it must exercise that power to drive our sector towards inclusive practices and policies.
Establishing access programmes is essential. It’s why we launched The Code, Dentsu Aegis Network’s flagship schools programme, which is now online, to give young people from socio-disadvantaged backgrounds the digital and creative skills they need to access our industry. We also launched The Female Foundry, our female entrepreneur development programme, to give female founders of digital businesses the support they need to thrive.
Of course, this isn’t enough. For starters, we can’t do it alone. The ad industry is powerful, and it must exercise that power to drive our sector towards inclusive practices and policies, including support with access and skills. We are also aware that these are small parts of a bigger picture needed to address the lack of diversity within our sector.
The barriers facing students from diverse backgrounds will only increase in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the latest IPA Agency Census, BAME representation in UK agencies has fallen dramatically at each of the three highest levels of seniority, showing that more needs to be done to diversify the talent pipeline. The barriers facing students from diverse backgrounds will only increase in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to provide opportunities for those who may not have considered a creative career otherwise, but for the advertising industry, far more work needs to be done to make this a reality.
Digital in a physical world
I have worked on digital inclusion programmes with children, young people and the elderly all over the world and seen first-hand how digital can transform lives and whole communities. The benefits of upskilling the next generation and ensuring that technology is accessible go beyond just improving our industry, they will be felt throughout the world.
The benefits of upskilling the next generation.. go beyond just improving our industry.
Technology gives individual power to people by giving them responsibility and the ability to help solve the problems they face. Digital skills can be used to adapt quickly to real world challenges and ensure the vulnerable remain connected. WhatsApp is a fantastic example of this during the current crisis. Communities across the world have been using the platform to support vulnerable people and to provide a channel to collate resources and localise the administration of essential services.
Communities across the world have been using [WhatsApp] to support vulnerable people and to provide a channel to collate resources.
Society is facing some of its greatest challenges. Inequality is causing wide scale disruption to society and the economy. We all need to recognise the critical role of digital in building a fair and equitable society, and the need for ongoing investment in digital inclusion and skills. And for our sector, it’s critical to building content that truly reflects all aspects of society.