Women face a range of challenges that prevent them from taking up demanding assignments. They cannot, therefore, achieve their goal of becoming leaders. It diminishes their ability to get ahead in their careers and business. While the numbers had improved, the COVID19 tsunami has undone a lot of the good work that went into improving gender equality. Women are bearing the brunt of the disruption caused due to COVID.
Unlocking the challenges faced by women post the pandemic
The pandemic has taken a toll on women’s careers. McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.org, published the latest women in the workplace report. The report highlights that women are more burnt out because of the pandemic. Data shows that one in three women have considered downshifting their career, and four in ten women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs While the data is from corporate America, things are not much different in India. Women have taken on more responsibilities at home like child care and supervising online learning for kids, elder care, and doing basic household chores. All these activities put pressure on their time and stress them out. There is no bandwidth left for women to think about their careers or pursue their passion.
A more extended career break can cause skills to become stale. Getting back on track by picking up a new job will in itself become an arduous task. Until companies decide to improve their working environments and allow flexible working, women will find it difficult to get back to work. Flexible working can become a game-changer for women’s careers. Their day-to-day lives have changed, and this will impact their career progression.
Those women who continued to work remotely felt the pressure of being “always-on”, or available on demand. Virtual work means they are required to be available for work at all times. The working hours extend much beyond the regular office hours, leaving less time to complete their personal responsibilities. This causes mental fatigue and slows them down, taking a toll on their well-being.
Has the pandemic proved to be a threat to women’s careers?
Global surveys conducted by Deloitte have indicated the pandemic’s impact on women’s mental and physical well-being. There is concern about women’s long-term career prospects. Those that are working, are juggling caregiving responsibilities with longer working hours. This is also taking a toll on their career prospects. Job satisfaction, productivity, and motivation are severely impacted.
The 2021 Opportunity Index Report by LinkedIn highlights that more than 40% of women have reportedly been affected by the unnatural development of dual workload. In a report released by the World Bank in June 2020, female labor force participation in India fell to 20.3% in 2020 from 30% in 1990. According to the CMIE November 2020 report, for urban women total employment in India reduced by 22.83% between November 2019 and 2020. All these statistics indicate the gravity of the situation regarding women’s careers.
According to the IMF staff discussion paper, in the next two decades,11 percent of female workforce jobs will be lost due to automation. Even in the textile and apparel manufacturing industry, 80 percent of jobs will be done by “sewbots”, as per the ILO study.
In many cases, women are also facing a range of non-inclusive behaviours. Not much support is offered by the organisation in terms of policies or reporting bias and discrimination. This makes matters worse. Women hesitate to voice concerns fearing negative career impact. It chips away their confidence and they are plagued by anxiety.
Organizations are required to rebuild workplaces that provide an empowering environment, making it possible for women to stay and grow in their careers.
Transformation through Reskilling
While coaching a women leader from a mid-size IT company, I noticed that she was constantly under pressure to deliver some of her tasks and she would be working late nights to complete the work. Her manager showed no empathy to understand her world. Both her parents were hospitalised due to covid and she could not visit them. When she requested leave, she was told she can take leave but she will have to attend a few zoom calls. She finally decided to let go of her job. After about six months, she enrolled herself in a course on AI and successfully completed it. Once things started improving at home, she found a job that offered the flexibility she needed.
Cal Newport, in his book, “Be So-Good They Can’t Ignore You”, talks about the concept of building a Career Capital. He justifies the importance of the craftsman mindset by arguing that the traits and skills that make for a great job are rare and valuable and therefore if you want a great job, you need to up-skill and build up rare and practical skills to offer in return. This is what he names Career Capital.
While Newport’s wisdom is gender agnostic, it applies to women who desire to build a career in the present-day context.
In an article from the World Economic Forum, by 2022,42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change. According to the article, the world is facing a reskilling emergency.
The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated digital transformation and AI projects across industries. This has also resulted in the requirement for new skills to deliver on business objectives. Companies worldwide are struggling with an urgent need for new skills. McKinsey’s Global survey shows the urgency for reskilling employees and closing the skill gap.
According to the World Economic Forum article, automation and technology will affect the nature of future work. Women would be impacted more unless reskilling measures are taken to ensure that deserving women employees are provided with the skills, they will require to be successful leaders in the digital era.
Women who have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, or have left their jobs because of child care, elder care, or other responsibilities, should consider upskilling themselves so that they can re-join and take up jobs that will ensure good career growth.
While corporates should sponsor women for reskilling and create more gender-balanced pipelines, women themselves should also strive to build the latest skills and prevent themselves from being phased out by technology. This will help them develop their career capital and help corporates to hire them back. The number of job opportunities that they explore will significantly improve post reskilling.
Statistics highlight the impact of the pandemic-induced lockdown on working women across all sectors and all levels. Technical and Managerial roles have also seen a significant decline.
The future of women at work
Technology adoption can be a significant disruptor as many jobs would get automated. Businesses worldwide are adopting the latest technologies to remain ahead in their respective fields. Companies are, therefore, heavily dependent on highly skilled employees. To overcome this disruption and excel in the tech-driven business environment, women will have to up-skill and reskill themselves and be more technology savvy. Those already working in technology companies, will also have to invest time and effort in upgrading their skills. There would be many new opportunities for women in STEM roles.
A few key things that women should do to increase their immunity against all odds and control their destiny,
1. Align with the demands of the evolving job market and your work domain. Currently, the technologies in great demand are artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, robotics, and blockchain. Upskilling or reskilling oneself in these technologies will safeguard your jobs and will enable you to help your organisation with innovation.
2. Virtual learning options are available for upskilling and are best for women as they help save time and money. It also supports ensuring that one stays relevant and updated with trends without sacrificing a job or taking a sabbatical.
3. While you are reskilling or upskilling and putting your newly gained skills to practice, build your personal brand. Find someone you admire or consider as your role model and request them to be your mentor.
4. Network for both career and personal growth. There are many women’s networking groups available for AI and Data Science. Try joining such groups as it helps to share knowledge and grow your career.
Jack Welch has very rightly said, “Control your destiny or someone else will”.
By upskilling and embracing new technologies you are opening all the locks to new beginnings in your career and taking control of your own destiny.