Is technology allowing more jobs to be done from anywhere in the world, even from the corner of one’s home and hence more and more women are joining the workforce? Or is it the society, which is becoming more open-minded? I think it’s a combination of both, but I strongly believe that it’s the former pulling the latter.
To put this in perspective, let me narrate an anecdote. A few moons back, when I first went to US to join university there, I was scheduled to take the university bus from my apartment to the university. When the bus arrived, I was surprised to see a frail looking elderly lady driving the bus. Very soon, I realized that the buses there had automatic power steering wheels. A common thing in India now, but not known to us in the 90s. And as a result of this technical revolution, bus driving no longer required strength. So, the job no longer required a man and hence became open for all, to compete.
If a job is better done by a man, then only men will be hired. There is no doubt about that. And that’s pure economics. That’s pure Laissez faire. In a free market economy, only the best-suited person will be chosen to deliver something. And why should we make this a gender issue? It’s actually gender neutral. When it comes to picking tea leaves in Darjeeling’s tea gardens, it’s only women employees that they would hire, for picking up the most expensive variety. Women with their nimble fingers are better suited for the job. But in this field, technology is yet to acquire the finesse of human fingers. So higher end tea is still hand-picked by women. Bottom-line is that the best-suited person gets chosen in a market economy.
All these discussions on gender diversity, all the seminars, events are all basically banking on technology to ensure equal performance. All we are calling for is giving equal opportunity to women when they can perform equally. If we start centuries back, until the industrial revolution, when most manufacturing units were dependent on human strength, only men worked in manufacturing. Once machines came to replace that need, we see so many women in manufacturing units. Construction as a business was only reserved for men since it needed strength, but now with machineries doing bulk of the heavy lifting, women are joining the industry in bulk. Same with our corporate jobs. Being under the same roof with coworkers was a must, a couple of decades back, holding back many moms from joining work, because they couldn’t leave their kids behind. But today with information technology taking off, working from off-locations is not just a possibility, it is a common practice. So, suddenly the jobs have opened up to a much larger set of potential contenders. With the jobs opening up to women, and given the well acknowledged fact that diversity in any shape of form usually brings about efficiency, the corporates are pushing for more women in the workplace.
Once technology does its part, then comes the softer aspect, the need for mindset change to accept women as equal contenders. We need to understand if there is really a conscious or unconscious bias that stands in the way of gender equality even after technology removes most of the gender gap and enables women to perform at the same level. The answer to this is still yes.
According to the WEF Global Gender Gap Report, in spite of technology doing its part, the gender gap continues to be wide, as women remain behind in all parameters - health, education and economics. Women still earn 80 cents for each Dollar earned by men. Only 6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Only 6.3% of the Heads of States are women. And at the current rate of progress, it would take another 217 years to bridge the gender gap. While most countries are affected by this challenge, India stands 108th out of a list of 144 participating countries, as per the same report.
However, there is still hope at the end of the tunnel. We do see that the push of free market economy and technology revolutions are outpacing the mindset and unconscious bias in the society and given that, we will soon see gender equality in all walks of life.