‘My World’ is a series of insights on gender issues for the people by the people

Anita Mittal is a technology expert who is currently a consultant for the World Bank. She has been working in the IT industry for over 2 decades and has worked both in the public and private sector. She is passionate about using e-Governance to improve efficiency, transparency, and convenience to empower people - especially the poor and the vulnerable. She has worked in several countries including India, UK, USA, Albania and Africa. She holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and Bachelors in Computer Science and Engineering from Osmania University, Hyderabad.

Women – Riding the wave of technology

Megha used to work at a bakery on daily wages and after theCOVID lockdown she had no source of earning. Megha,passionate about baking, took to the internet and soon learnt how to bake and and decorate her cakes. Through the internet, she also learnt to prepare a enticing flier and advertised her product on her social media network. Slowly, the demand grew larger than which could be handled by a single woman and soshe subsequently tied up with technology platforms to enable effortless online orders, efficient online payments, and provide delivery for her products through services such as Swiggy and Zomato throughout the city. There are many others Meghas’who have started their enterprise leveraging digital platforms. There are many women who have not been able to adapt to the changing nature of work due to the rapid pace of technological change. Technology can be a great friend but only if we learn to make it so.

Dubbed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, disruptive technologies like robots and artificial intelligence will cost 5.1 million jobs by 2020 in fifteen of the world’s largest economies as per the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs report. It finds that the jobs most at risk are those that can be automated easily. These include roles with the largest share of female employees such as manufacturing and clerical jobs. A recent IMF paper concluded that in the next two decades, automation will replace 11 percent of the female workforce in routine jobs compared to 9 percent of the male workforce. That means 180 million female jobs will be displaced globally unless these women adopt and learn to use new technologies. In India, technological change will disrupt over 40 million existing jobs by 2025 as per the Mc Kinsey report.

Women’s economic empowerment is necessary to drive global growth and sustainability but we have done little to respond to the changing nature of work due to technological innovations. Globally, 200 million more men than women have access to the Internet and women are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men. These staggering disparities will continue to increase unless women and the society starts making efforts to reduce them. Technology presents opportunities for women to move into and advance in the workplace by gaining new skills and opportunities—in some cases leapfrogging into previously inaccessible jobs.

To move forward in an increasingly digital age, it is of paramount importance that women seize this opportunitythrough education, training, and learning. In India, per the Mc Kinsey report the over 60 million new jobs could be created from the direct impact of productivity boosting digital applications.

We need to close the gender gap in technology by helping girls access educational opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and Information Technology. In India, girls comprise 50% of science and 30% of engineering fields of higher education which is among the highest in the world but their numbers in the workforce have been declining. While women have a head start in enrollment, they tend to drop out at higher levels of engagement with technology primarily due to their responsibilities as a wife, a mother, and a homemaker. Women have to break theses stereotypes and seek support from their partners to get back into the workplace and rise through the ranks. Online training and learning skills can be tremendously helpful in achieving these goals.

Technology is changing the landscape of the labor marketand women have a huge opportunity to engage in the entire value chain of e-commerce not only co-workers but more importantly as entrepreneurs. Digital marketplaces enable the sale of goods and services and are changing labour market dynamics. Indian E-commerce marketplace generates close to $20 billion in merchandise value annually and employs between 150,000 and 200,000 people. McKinsey has estimated that e-commerce is likely to become four to six times its current size and could create 500,000 jobs in India, based on today’s job intensity.

Technology is changing how people work, giving rise to the “gig economy” in which organizations contract independent workers for short-term engagements. Digital technologies and platforms are making work divisible and are helping employees work remotely. Freelancers are increasingly seeking autonomous, project-based work, in the work-from-home model. Women professionals who have had to let go of their careers due to familial obligations can now join into the growing trend of the over 15 million work-from-home freelancers in India. By learning how to use mobile apps and connecting to internet, many more new types of jobs are becoming available to women. In the fiscal year 2016, the Babajob portal recorded a sevenfold increase in openings for female cab drivers and an increase of more than 150 percent in women’s applications for driver jobs.Many of these non-traditional jobs also play an important role in helping shift gender norms. This is particularly true when technical training is accompanied by education on legal rights.

The COVID-19 Lockdown has accelerated the pace of digitization and innovative models to the extent that servicesof online learning and service delivery that leverage digital platforms are taking birth every day. Many women havetaken advantage of these trends and have become entrepreneurs through pursuing their passion in cooking, art, and teaching by leveraging platforms and learning skills from the digital world.The power women hold is continuing to grow as they seek out new opportunities and are learning to leverage new technologies.

Integrated and technology-driven economies are increasingly valuing tertiary education (defined as any education beyond the high school level, including trade schools and college). It has become easier with access to digital resources for anyone to start self-learning on the web and grow. Realizing the full value of digitization is contingent on the economy’s ability to retrain affected workers and redeploy them, especially women in more productive jobs.

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