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We are in a time of great adversity, yet therein lies great opportunity. Can women capitalise on it and reshape the world into a gender balanced workforce?
Which was the first country to officially come out of the pandemic among the developing world? New Zealand. Which was the country that consistently maintained a lower fatality rate than the global average for COVID-19, and has now resumed more activities than its neighbours? Germany.
What is common in both these countries? Women as heads of the government.
We could debate the economic advantage that Germany possesses, or the geographic isolation that New Zealand does. However, the leadership cannot be discounted.
Countries like the USA have the highest economic advantage, and Sweden has one of the best medical facilities. However, both nations still haven’t managed this situation as well as one may have hoped or imagined.
The pandemic has been a case in point to prove the impact of women in critical roles. This is mostly so because there is no precedent to dealing with this crisis. Perhaps this demonstration will help fix the abysmally low (23%) representation of women in executive leadership roles.
Even otherwise, in emerging markets especially, women barely form 30 percent of the workforce. This is something that can change for the better in a post-COVID world, given the rise of certain market realities.
On the one hand, the number of women in the workplace has been growing at a steady three percent for some years, we believe this new reality will catapult us into a more gender balanced world. There are three key factors that will bring about this shift – acceptance of agile working, need for dual income, and automation led shift in talent requirements.
Increasing acceptance of Agile Working opens up new opportunities
The term Agile Working has been bandied about for long. It has been loosely connected to working from home, or virtual meetings, or even the Lean Startup principles of Eric Reis. Simply put, Agile Working is the most efficient way of doing something. It shifts the focus from ‘how’ to the ‘what’ of any task.
COVID-19 smashed the traditional ways of working almost overnight and cleared the obstacles in the way of Agile Working. It made a shift to digital mandatory, trashing the usual excuses against remote work in one fell swoop.
Researches have now shown that 70 percent of B2B buyers find virtual sales calls just as effective as in-person calls. And organisations have been quick to adapt.
Google have asked their employees to work from home for the rest of this year, and Twitter may be considering this on a permanent basis. Even the governments are weighing in – the CARES Act in the US, a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package covers freelancers.
What does that have to do with women you may ask. Well, everything!
Acceptance of this new way of working will widely benefit women who stayed away from the workforce or chose less lucrative job options. The ones given to them due to the lack of such agile opportunities from their employers. More women can opt for freelance opportunities and make the best use of their skills without getting shackled by an office routine.
Women will no longer need to compromise on the type of job they would like to do, and still do this with the flexibility they would like to have. The classic case of CHAN from Unilever, where two women share a senior leadership role and split the working week between them. This could now be democratised among more companies thanks to COVID-19.
As Jeannette Walls put it, “Sometimes you need a little crisis to get your adrenaline flowing and help you realize your potential.”
While Agility is the positive side of the coin with this pandemic, recession is the negative. This will impact jobs and livelihoods and will take a few years even post-COVID and a potential vaccine, for a return to pre-2020 normalcy.
In this scenario, households with single bread winners may face financial constraints. Zero bonuses, pay cuts, and even job losses, may drive the need for a second income in the house getting more women in the workforce.
Companies that were heavily dependent on people for critical processes were severely impacted by COVID-19. At the same time, others that were tech heavy – like Zoom – thrived. To minimise such impact in future, companies are actively seeking automation solutions.
Jobs in the future will be split between those that require logic and those that require magic. ‘Logic’ roles are manual, repetitive and high volume which will increasingly be performed by RPAs or AI. ‘Magic’ roles will require creative thinking, higher empathy and better communication.
Studies have shown women fare better in ‘Magic’ roles compared to men. One of the best examples here is Angela Merkel herself. Her address to the nation at the start of the outbreak, and her every intervention since then, has been par excellence compared to her peers.
Women in the ‘new’ workplace
While the ingredients for success are there, women need to prepare to capitalise on this opportunity. To do this they need to:
Technology shifts at a breakneck pace, and we need to keep up with the changing times. Women representation is consistently low among new skill areas and STEM. Cloud computing for instance only has 12 percent of women. Women need to take stock of their skills and re-skill/up-skill to stay relevant in changing times.
Creativity at work can operate at all levels. From the homemaker who can introduce her own ‘Hello Fresh’ model, to micro-influencers that are sought out by companies given the relevance of ‘Word of Mouth’ among communication media today. Skilled workers can pick from these examples and chart their own course to professional success. Collaborating with the right partner and seeking the right investment opportunities, women can creatively employ themselves in roles matching their skills.
As organisational culture shifts to be more accommodative of remote and virtual work, women need to step up and be heard. To do this they need to be assertive and come out of the shadow of their male counterparts. This is the decade to own your unapologetic selves.
This is a time of great adversity, yet therein lies great opportunity too.
Can women capitalise on this opportunity and reshape the world into a gender balanced workforce?
Consultant | TEDx Speaker | Author
Supriya is a solo-preneur with 12+ years of experience in technology and brand storytelling. She thrives on proliferating and enabling ideas that have the potential to change the world. She writes prolifically on the impact of technology, entrepreneurship, brand strategies, and women centric issues on various platforms. Her WEF articles can be found here and her other work is available at www.supriyajain.com
Global Marketing, Unilever | Author
Sandeep is a marketing professional with Unilever where he has worked for the last 12 years across Asia, Europe and Africa. His life’s purpose is to “script highs together”. He believes a day not legendary is a day wasted, and therefore maximises every opportunity so it’s a story worth telling, be it across business solutions, culinary experiences or travel adventures. He writes articles on marketing and blogs and vlogs about his travels. His work can be found on LinkedIN, YouTube and Travel Blog.
Picture credits: Vlada Karpovich from Pexels
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Supriya is a single mom, entrepreneur, marketer, editor, author, and facilitator – on the quest to
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