The global pandemic has altered the world immeasurably, the way we work, live and play has transformed in as little as six months. Disruption is no longer just a buzzword that we refer to in business management journals, but it is a lived experience that 7 billion people have had to endure during 2020.
Technology and digital transformation is now at the forefront of this disruption. Just a few months ago, working from home was often seen as a cool thing to have, reserved for those in trendy / hip organizations. And yet, in one fell swoop, millions of people and organizations around the world have gone digital and embraced work from home, as a new way of life.
Doctors are now providing tele-consultations, business meetings are exclusively conducted online, even your favorite conference is just a Zoom click away.
It appears we are on the cusp of a long-term shift in regards to where and how we work. Although the shift may herald much opportunity there are millions of workers who are vulnerable to this shift as their jobs require them to work in person and they are unable to adapt their career to this new normal.
It is becoming clear that the shift will necessitate the widespread retraining and re-skilling of workers, who are going to face significant challenges due to the increase and adoption of automation across white & blue-collar jobs.
Women are likely to face the greatest disruption to their careers in part due to historical cultural and structural norms that have hindered women's role in the workforce thus far.
To secure well-paying jobs and remain employable in the workplace of the future, there are some key attributes that women should know and keep in mind going forward. For many women, discussing the need for digital skills or the future of work may be daunting. And that’s okay! We’ve compiled some useful advice to help you understand the key trends taking place that will impact you and help you kickstart your learning journey of transformation.
1. #Job Losses
All recessions are painful and emotionally draining especially for those who face the insecurity of losing their jobs and livelihood. The current pandemic has hit women harder with record unemployment numbers globally - Citibank estimated that over 220 Million women could lose their jobs due to the pandemic - that would erase the many gains made by women in the workforce prior to Covid-19 and further exacerbate the gender pay gap.
The job losses are also unlikely to be temporary as millions of jobs will never come back due in part to the pandemic but also long-lasting technological and digital transformation.
With the advent of automation and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) tools and processes, women face a future where the job losses will outweigh the new jobs gained. 3 million job losses but only 0.55 million gains, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Gender Gap study . That would mean more than five jobs lost for every job gained. In the past, departments such as administrative and clerical departments have been a major job source for female employees in previous decades. However, that will no longer be that case as it will be these departments that will be hit hardest by digital disruption.
Why? These occupations which women predominate in have a high level of potential to be automated because routine cognitive work makes up a significant proportion of such roles.
2. #The need to transition
New technologies also point to new opportunities for growth, but this disruption requires that women by upskill and move into higher-skilled occupations by 2030, according to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, The future of women at work: Transitions in the age of automation. As many as 160 million women may need to change jobs due to automation. That’s nearly one-quarter of all women employed today.
The new competencies to weather this change are being skilled, mobile and tech-savvy. If this transition is successfully made, women stand to attain higher levels of pay and career opportunities. On the flip side, failure to do so would merely widen the current gender gap. A significant number of women might even have to leave the workforce due to the reduced need for lower-skilled workers. And considering the digital economy’s fast pace of change, returning to the workforce after an exit would be even more difficult. The half-life of a job skill today is only about five years, and even this number is set to decrease. By 2022, at least 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling, according to the WEF’s Future of Jobs report.
3. #Keep track of potential new opportunities
However, with automation taking over the brunt of routine tasks, women could focus more on people- management, interacting with stakeholders and applying expertise where necessary. In the fields of healthcare, where women dominate, technology is increasingly helping to take over administrative tasks this could mean more meaningful interaction time with patients. With technical expertise, women could also be well placed to lead the technologies and companies driving the future of digital economies.
There is likely to be a shift away from basic cognitive skills towards technical skills as well as social and emotional skills. By 2030, jobs in Europe and the United States could require up to 55 percent more time using technical skills and 24 percent more hours using social and emotional skills.  Watch the market and take notes on where you can best apply your talents.
4. # Remember complacency is your enemy
In the 2020s, winning organizations will be those that can compete on an increasing rate of learning. Companies that continuously provide their employees at all levels with the latest digital skills will be most likely to thrive and continue to attract top talent. Regardless of the skill or industry, remember that the most important thing is that learning is continuous. Keep at it and don’t remain stagnant! Take the initiative to pursue learning and constant improvement; take responsibility and ownership over your personal development. Your future depends on it!
5. # There are benefits?
Of course, technology & digital transformation also presents opportunities for women to move into and advance in the workplace by gaining new skills and opportunities—in some cases leap-frogging into previously inaccessible jobs. With the global adoption of working remotely allows women to accommodate responsibilities at home while still taking part in the formal economy. Working from home may also allow for more flexible arrangements involving both parents. Working and parenting being done alongside each other could allow for a more effective balance between work and family matters.
6. #Harnessing female talent
But take note- businesses do want to address the systemic issues women face in the workforce! More than a quarter of companies surveyed in the World Economic Forum’s Industry Gender Gap study identified women as a key feature of future workforce strategy.
McKinsey’s research has also found that the most diverse companies are 15-24% more likely to outperform their peers on earnings before interest and taxation margins than are companies in the bottom quartile for diversity.
Low female participation in the workforce and upper level management is a business issue, having the potential to negatively impact businesses, because companies lose out on enhancing innovation and decision making. It is also an ethical issue- fairness and equality are certainly important values in any modern society today.
7. #But remember that all this comes on top of existing gender gaps
Not only are wage gaps still pervasive even in industries with high female participation rates, there remains the problems of a lack in structural support in the workplace as well as unconscious beliefs and biases against women by superiors and upper management. This bias was a major stumbling block to workforce integration in the past five years, according to the WEF’s gender gap study.
This is when women are also less mobile than men to begin with due to being more likely to take on unpaid care work at home. This negatively impacts their scope for training and paid employment. 
Furthermore, this effect is worsened especially for the industries such as the energy, ICT, aviation, travel and automotive industries, where there are already fewer women with STEM backgrounds to begin with.
Women hold 56% of university degrees overall, but just 36% of STEM degrees, and they make up only 25% of the STEM workforce . Just 22% of AI professionals and 12% of machine-learning experts are women, according to a WEF-LinkedIn study.
According to the OECD, currently only 1.4% of female workers have jobs developing, maintaining or operating ICT systems. This is compared with 5.5% of male workers - the gap is apparent.
8. # If you want choice, you need to have the right skills
Technological innovation will create new roles, such as in machine learning, Blockchain and many roles we can't even imagine yet. But to go after such jobs, women will need to build up the relevant skill sets to meet the new demands of the global economy. The most significant knowledge to be gained at present revolve around the use of technology, but there are other critical skills that are imperative to explore and acquire.
- Continuous learning
- Personal accountability
- Intellectual Honesty
- Ability to embrace contradictions
- Ecosystem Thinking
- Comfort with discomfort
Business-as-usual thinking will not enable women to prepare for the radical shifts that are taking place across our societies and economies. Developing the right skills and mindset will enable women to gain new roles in the digital era, and the freedom to choose where you want to work and what you want to do.
From here on out, the world is only going to witness even more unprecedented change. Women most definitely have the potential to succeed and thrive even amidst uncertainty. But this is not the time for complacency, action needs to be taken. If the nature of work is changing, then its workers will have to change as well- start looking at retraining, reskilling and relearning, evaluate your abilities and take care to upskill to ensure that your existing skill set presents value to the current workforce. The journey will require effort, but you’ll be able to find comfort and even a certain measure of security in the knowledge that you’re putting in the hard work now, in order to make a place for yourself in the workplace of the future.
Readers, over to you — what do you think are the things that all professional women should know about the future of work? How does your answer differ for, say, a 30-year-old and a 50-year-old?
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About half the sky
half the sky (HTS) is a career platform for women in Asia. We connect women to career opportunities at companies that care. We also want to equip you with information, tips and strategies to navigate the workplace today and the future.
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