With the pandemic markedly transforming the global labor market, one of the greatest challenges working women face is ensuring their employability in an increasingly digital economy. We know that during the height of the economic lockdowns, women were much more adversely impacted than men; more than four million in the US and Europe were let go or left the workforce voluntarily. A number of socio-economic factors contributed to their displacement, but one leading driver is the loss of jobs due to automation and changing skills requirements.
That’s why as the global recovery gets under way, it’s imperative for employers, policy makers and workers themselves to focus on reskilling — especially for women most affected by the pandemic. Now more than ever, we need to help those pushed out of the world of work to once again become marketable and secure in their careers. Without the participation of many women, employers will likely experience talent scarcity levels comparable to pre-pandemic levels.
Reskilling is important for all workers, but why specifically focus on the needs of women? Consider these telling statistics:
- Women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
- 40 to 160 million women worldwide may need to transition their careers due to automation by 2030.
- In 2020, women lost $800 billion in income, according to Oxfam International.
Beyond job losses, reduced hours and stifled pay, the career progression of many women have simply been halted during the pandemic — in part because of family demands slowing their professional ambitions, the lack of mentoring opportunities and competing priorities within their organization.
The good news is that we have arrived at a crossroads and are being presented with an opportunity to effect big change in the training and development of working women. The acceleration of digitalization has forced many organizations to adapt during this time. While transformation continues to be a difficult conversation in the boardroom, companies worldwide have demonstrated a fortitude and agility we have not witnessed before.
Many organizations have an appetite for expanding their upskilling investments. It’s become necessary for businesses to thrive in today’s new digital environment. We see it across many industries — from healthcare providers to big-box retailers to financial services — and it’s most likely happening in yours also. But businesses cannot do it alone; they need the support of many stakeholders such as policymakers, labor groups and others.
By prioritizing the immediate and long-term needs of working women, we can undo the damage that has occurred during the past year and a half. According to CNBC, women’s participation in the US labor force reached a 33-year low in January of this year. And among women who became unemployed during the pandemic, many have stopped working for longer periods of time, which can severely affect their earnings potential later on in their careers.
Reskilling is one of the ways to help women get back into the workforce. By helping women move into higher-paying jobs that enable them to pay for childcare and other working expenses, they are able to stay on track in their careers. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the ratio of workers to jobs is much lower among professional and business services roles than in the leisure and hospitality sector (which has a disproportionately higher percentage of women workers). Reskilling more blue collar workers from this sector to move into professional services is one way to address talent scarcity while enhancing the earning potential of many women.
The good news is many policy makers are acknowledging the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women. In June of this year, the Gender Equality Advisory Council, a body of experts convened by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, called on the G7 nations to “invest in women’s lifelong learning, including female entrepreneurship and reskilling for new economies.” The UN is also advancing a Women’s Global Acceleration Plan that places women at the center of the global economic recovery. It calls for increased reskilling resources among other measures.
Supporting women in their professional ambitions will go a long way to helping them stay or re-enter the workforce, secure decent jobs and advance their careers. Providing critical resources such as skills assessment will help guide their training and development. Mentorships, some of which were put on hold during the pandemic, must resume. Employers must also continue to offer job flexibility so for some women they don’t have to choose between family and career.
Furthermore, women need better guidance on what skills they will need to advance in their careers. That’s why I am excited about the launch of Randstad RiseSmart BrightFit, a unique predictive career exploration technology that empowers talent to make smarter career decisions and organizations to build more agile, sustainable workforces. BrightFit leverages predictive technology and personalized career coaching. Its algorithms analyze real-time labor market data from more than 40,000 sources and over 17,000 associated skills to yield a unique combination of scores. These insights guide individuals to careers with a bright market outlook and a strong skills fit. You can learn more about BrightFit here.
Women were making progress toward workplace equity in the years leading up to the pandemic. The past 18 months have resulted in tremendous setbacks, but with a concerted effort from all stakeholders and a focus on reskilling, we can help working women regain their momentum again.