International Women’s Day: 2 experts say flexibility for everyone would make workplaces more equal

  • As the world marks International Women’s Day, we asked two of the authors of the upcoming Global Gender Gap Report what they expect for gender equality in the workplace in 2022.
  • LinkedIn’s Sue Duke calls to remove bias and stigma around flexibility to make workplaces more equal.
  • Coursera’s Betty Vandenbosch suggests training and flexible online opportunities offered gains during the pandemic that can be used to make further progress.

Developing and deploying one-half of the world’s available talent has a huge bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report offers a means to benchmark progress, with rankings that are designed to create global awareness of the challenges that gender gaps pose, as well as the opportunities that emerge when action is taken to reduce them.

Last year’s report sounded a warning that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the global gender gap by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

Despite progress in education and health, it showed that women face economic hurdles, declining political participation and workplace challenges, and called for strategies and policies that emphasize investment in the care sector, equal hiring practices and skills development.

Without a proactive approach to embedding equity, there is a risk of further polarization by race, gender, economic status or other forms of difference. Policy-makers must embed equity into economic reform.

—World Economic Forum, Managing Director, Saadia Zahidi

The World Economic Forum’s Managing Director, Saadia Zahidi, called for “equity, diversity and inclusion” to be “hardwired into how new markets are built, how reskilling and upskilling is done, how education systems are reformed and how the care economy is built.”

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

One year on, as the world marks International Women’s Day, we asked two of the authors of this year’s edition (due June 2022), what they expect for gender equality in the workplace in 2022 and how to address inequity in the context of digitalization, automation and hybrid working.

The theme that emerges is a trend towards flexibility and ‘care-conducive work policies‘. But these need to be balanced with equal incentives for all people to take flexible options to avoid a two-track path, where flexibility becomes a barrier rather than an enabler of career progression.

‘We have to remove bias and stigma around flexibility’

Sue Duke, Vice President, Head of Global Public Policy & Economic Graph, LinkedIn

The COVID-19 crisis hit women’s participation in the workforce much harder, with many women being forced to take a step back from work as they had to step up at home. LinkedIn’s Economic Graph data shows that especially in the beginning of the crisis, hiring rates for women plummeted compared to men and critical ground was lost in terms of getting more women into leadership roles.

Female representation in leadership is critical not only because of the impact these jobs have but also because leaders often serve as role models to others. Today there is no country and no industry in the world achieving gender parity in leadership roles.

World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2021

‘Women are not fairly represented in the jobs of tomorrow’

Image: World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2021

Our data also shows worrying signs that women are not fairly represented in the jobs of tomorrow. These are the jobs that are shaping the future of our economy and are likely to provide a large volume of employment opportunities. They include areas that are critical for our societies, such as the technology sector and the green economy. These jobs are often well-paid and our data shows that they are more resilient in times of crises than other jobs. Getting more women into the jobs of the future is critical and we cannot lose more time. We need to act now.

And while this makes for very sobering reading, at the same time, the pandemic has shown that change is possible. Almost overnight we saw that remote work became the norm for many. And two years into the pandemic, remote jobs account for nearly 15% of all jobs on LinkedIn.

On LinkedIn, we also see that women are more likely to apply to remote jobs than men. Flexibility can be a game-changer and a key driver for equality in workplaces as it can allow both women and men to combine work and other duties. Simple measures such as working remotely or flexible working times can make a large difference. But we have to remove bias and stigma around flexibility if we’re to realize its true potential and make workplaces more equal.

Flexibility can be a game-changer and a key driver for equality in workplaces as it can allow both women and men to combine work and other duties.

—Sue Duke, Vice President, Head of Global Public Policy & Economic Graph, LinkedIn

Achieving gender equality is a complex undertaking and requires coordinated action from all. But we’ve shown over the last two years that we can make huge change at scale when we need to. And this is one area where we really need change.

‘Online learning and digital jobs offer more equal access for women’

Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer, Coursera

The new digital economy, accelerated by automation and the pandemic, requires new skills.

By 2025, 149 million new digital jobs will be created – many of which can be done remotely. The flexibility of online learning and remote work will open up employment opportunities for women on a global scale, as many look to fit work and learning into their lives, instead of the other way around.

Our research suggests gender gaps in online learning narrowed during the pandemic globally, even as the gender employment gap widened. 50% of new registered learners on Coursera in 2021 were women, up from 45% pre-pandemic. Many countries, particularly emerging economies, saw a dramatic increase in online education participation among women year-over-year.

Many countries, particularly emerging economies, saw a dramatic increase in online education participation among women year-over-year.

—Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer, Coursera

We saw the share of enrollments from women in online STEM courses – which account for many high-demand digital skills – grow from 31% pre-pandemic to 37% in 2021. Stackable, short-form, and mobile learning options are crucial to make learning possible and help women move into STEM careers.

Well-paying jobs that do not require a college degree or prior industry experience are emerging in high-growth fields, including entry-level roles in sectors, such as IT, sales, project management, and data analytics – ideal for those looking to switch careers.

Compared to pre-pandemic, there were higher participation rates from women in affordable certificate programmes that prepare learners for entry-level digital careers in under a year. Enrollments from women in these programmes increased from 25% in 2019 to 37% in 2021 in a growing number of certificates from industry leaders, including Google, Meta, Salesforce, and Intuit.

gender gaps in online learning narrowed during the pandemic globally, even as the gender employment gap widened

Gender gaps in online learning narrowed during the pandemic globally, even as the gender employment gap widened.

Image: Coursera

Data also shows that women enroll more than men in courses taught by women instructors. Higher education institutions and industry educators can diversify their instructors, particularly in STEM fields, to help increase participation from women learners and other underrepresented groups.

Institutional collaboration will be critical to addressing the scale of the skills crisis and gender workplace gap amid rapid transformation. Governments, businesses, and higher education institutions must unite efforts to create flexible and affordable pathways for women to develop critical skills and unlock their full economic potential in the modern workforce.

For example, governments and higher ed institutions can offer free access to broadband connectivity, skills training initiatives, and career coaching for women learners. They can also partner with local nonprofits to recruit women learners from communities most in need, and provide other support services such as cohort learning, mentors, and alumni networks.

Businesses should modernize workplace practices: remove unnecessary degree requirements, normalize resumé gaps for parents and caretakers, and embrace flexible and remote working policies.

Together, online learning and digital jobs offer a foundation for more equal access to opportunity for women around the world. Hopeful trends are emerging, but we still have important work to do to ensure gender equality in the new digital economy.


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