The first step to solving a problem is realizing there is one. And the problem with gender gaps at work is like a crystal ball – it is completely clear. And the ‘present’ that is being reflected in this crystal ball is not the brightest. The upside to this crystal ball is that the future it is reflecting, can be changed – or rather steps should be taken to change it.
“About 43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time,” writes Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In. A representative of that 43% is Paulette Light, the co-founder of MomStamp, who writes, “I am the 43 percent” in her article on the Atlantic. Light’s story goes as this – she had to leave working after her second child, not because the company was not supportive, but because she decided to. The organization only demanded her to “get the job done”. But that was the problem. “Getting the job done was all about giving everything to the job, and that wasn't sustainable for me once I had a child,” she says.
This is an example of a woman who was being provided with flexible work hours and other benefits. Keeping the challenges in hindsight, visualize the herculean task a woman would face if she were devoid of these basic services – which may simply include flexible working opportunity, remote access to information, remote learning and development, remote meetings et al.
Through this article, I want to draw your attention to two spectrums:
- Technology – at one end we have advancements such as predictive analytics and machine learning, and at the other end we have the primitive technologies such as access to information remotely and video conferencing.
- Women participation in workforce – at one end there is developing women leaders and at the other end there is giving flexible working opportunities to women employees.
I am going to sway away from the popular discourse and talk about the lower end of the spectrum. While the upper end of the spectrum is equally important, here are two important facts that will draw our attention to the lower end. Currently, only 23.3% women are working in the age group of 30-44 years as compared to 98.8 percent men , and a major proportion of 75% women leave for childcare and 80% leave for elderly-care.
So we might have progressive companies providing the best of benefits to their women workforce along with a conducive digital infrastructure and opportunities, but the disparity prevails. The Accenture report on “Getting to Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work” reveals that men outscore women on accounts of digital fluency in every country studied.
So now that we are in a state of realism, it is important to look at a possible solution.
Is Digital Fluency the answer?
Digital fluency can be one solution to the problem, as established by the latest Accenture report. The report has established a direct correlation between digital fluency and education and employment of women. The report highlights that as the digital fluency of women increases, the education level also increases. The biggest impact of digital fluency though is the increased ability of women to find and participate in work as their digital fluency increases. Consider this – the access to job opportunities increases by 506 percent because of digital. The relevance of this statistic is immense for women who are on breaks, as 91 percent of the women who take a break want to come back to work, and 72 percent women in India do not want to go back to the same employer, according to a report by Center for Talent Innovation . While employers should take note and make the environment favorable for returning women, it is also important to develop digital fluency in women for it can empower them to find work. Women have also been found to be better at leveraging digital to find work.
“Access and flexibility are the two areas which are influenced by digital fluency,” says Joydeep Mukherkjee, Managing Director, Financial Services Industry Group. People can get access to jobs, information, resources and flexibility to do a job because one also has individual responsibilities. And while we continue to challenge the gender responsibilities which are mere social constructions, it is important to know that these exist and provide answers to them.
Does digital fluency really help?
Detouring from a statistician’s argument, this argument is built more on observation. Accenture’s Joydeep, shared an anecdote of how digital helped one of his peers to continue her career advancement. He says, “One of my colleagues was with the company for eight years. A high performer at the executive management level, she came across a personal obstacle in life. But she kept continuing work remotely, accessing leadership trainings, using communication and collaboration tools; and the issues with managing work remarkably reduced, all because of access to digital and also her own digital fluency.”
Innumerable such anecdotes can be picked from fellow #PowerWomanAtWork. But reiterating the argument made, digital fluency can be the enabler and accelerator.
So it is important for employers to focus on developing the requisite digital infrastructure and also putting in efforts to building digital fluency in their workforce.
“Women represent an untapped talent pool that can help fill the gap between the skills needed to stay competitive and the talent available,” said Pierre Nanterme, Accenture’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “There is a clear opportunity for governments and businesses to collaborate on efforts that will empower more women with digital skills – and accelerate gender equality in the workforce.”