How tech can enable women in the workplace
Women’s Month is a powerful reminder of the struggle for equal rights. In South Africa, 66 years after more than 20,000 women marched on the Union Buildings to protest the “pass laws”, women are still struggling for recognition, equal pay and equal rights. In the workplace, they might have broken through the glass ceiling, but their career development is held back by a “broken rung” on their path to success.
Technology can either be a threat, or it can help level the playing field, not only by aiding women to access economic opportunities, but also enabling them to upskill and advance in their careers.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s Women, Automation, and the Future of Work report says technology has disrupted employment patterns. It has shifted the nature and quality of work, the number of jobs, remuneration, and the work-life balance. But the changes are skewed because technological change affects men and women differently and the jobs most commonly held by women face some of the biggest risks of becoming automated in the future.
And while men are not immune to the risks of automation and technological change, women are more likely to work in jobs which can be displaced by changes.
Those jobs that are less likely to be replaced by technology, such as childcare, elder care, and education, might be deemed to be “safe” from automation but they are lower paying and offer less access to benefits than jobs at risk of automation.
Even before the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund projected that 11% of jobs held by women were at risk of elimination from AI and other digital technologies. Talent management software were also found to be slanted towards men, due to a bias baked into the data on which the AI algorithms are trained.
The pandemic has reversed progress on gender parity in labour-force participation, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 notes, registering the lowest parity score since the index began. This gendered labour-market scarring could become a longer-term problem, with consequences for other dimensions of employment and life, as well as the distribution of unpaid work.
If they had the choice, most people would prefer to work from home but increased workloads, an expectation to be “always on” and household responsibilities have lumped additional pressure onto employees – especially women. For many employees though, managing workplace responsibilities from the comfort and convenience of their homes is a game-changer and businesses can make the most of this hybrid work trend by offering digital workspaces that facilitate greater online collaboration.
The Deloitte Global “Women @ Work: A global outlook” report found increased responsibilities have had a detrimental impact on working women. In South Africa, 57% of respondents reported feeling less optimistic about their career prospects, while 67% of SA women ranked their mental wellbeing as good or extremely good before the pandemic. Now, only 32% viewed their mental health in a positive light.
Here’s how tech can help, not hinder:
The labour market remains largely segregated by gender. StatsSA’s Labour Force Survey for Q2 said women who are looking for work and are available to work have a tougher time finding work than men. In 2022, 47% of SA women were recorded as economically inactive, compared to 35,6% of men.
Women who do find work are usually employed in vulnerable employment (characterised by low wages, low productivity and difficult work conditions) compared to men. Only 5.8% of women occupy management positions, compared to 9.8% of employed men. The biggest sectors employing women include elementary education (22.3%), sales and services (18.5%), clerk (16.4%), domestic workers (11.9%) and technicians (11.2%).
Many of these jobs may be replaced, but this creates employment opportunities around the application of technology because there will always be a need for the human touch – not only to keep automation processes flowing, but also for customer care, human interaction, to create new services and solve different problems.
Unesco says globally, studies indicate working women are paid less, hold fewer senior positions and participate less in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. It’s vital that women are not left behind in this future workplace. They must be encouraged to study in fields that are in demand, so they can offer the workplace skills that put them on a path to personal and professional fulfilment. They also need to feel connected, supported, and appreciated, so they will be more likely to stay with your business.
Girls who pursue STEM education are able to gain valuable coding, programming, and IT-related skills, which offer them greater – and better paying opportunities.
By training and upskilling their staff, companies can help prepare staff for the automated workspace and equip them for future work processes.
With Sage Cloud solutions, companies can stay on top of everything they need to keep their workforce productive and their operations smooth – it’s just one of the ways automated services can help streamline workplace processes.
Education for the future
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 estimates it will take 132 years for women to reach full parity with men in the workforce. An equitable post-pandemic recovery can be accelerated through education. Online learning platform Coursera says the number of women learning online increased from 38% in 2019 to 45% in 2021, even though the gender employment gap widened.
Online learning provides an opportunity to level the playing field for women by connecting them to better opportunities and prospects in the workplace.
With a focus on improving skills and re-skilling, workforce strategies must ensure that women are better equipped to overcome challenges and take advantage of the opportunities the digital economy offers. Widening participation is one thing but providing opportunities to lead is another.
To truly advance gender equality, we must consider the entire employee, starting from their education to how we attract and recruit talent, and how we invest in development.
Technology is the ultimate enabler, helping women to open new doors, promote themselves, dream big, build on our networks and take a leap of faith in our abilities.
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