Women in the workforce had to bear a disproportionate burden of hurt during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, flexible work from home and hybrid work models have come as a boon to women allowing them to undertake opportunities they might have avoided earlier. These hybrid models offer women the incentive and the impetus to plan their day as per their varying levels of flexibility.
The turn of the second decade of the 21st century has carved the pathways to a way of life and work unimagined, much less acknowledged, by anyone in the preceding years. Today, the rapidly changing professional world stands witness to new enterprises, new opportunities, new challenges, and new concerns, those being carefully calibrated by the tech-driven design claiming control, in terms of cause and effect, of billions of lives at once. As we see the culture, the ethos, and the social norms of the workplace undergoing a once-in-a-century change, the pandemic-induced restrictions which have introduced novel systems of the hybrid work-life model, present before all sections of the working sphere new avenues for self-discovery, self-exploration, and self-improvement.
All this becomes even more prominent when placed in relative comparisons against the norms and challenges of the pre-pandemic times, with social and economic, professional, and domestic veins coming together to create a unique ecosystem for women. For a start, we see women in the workforce having to bear a disproportionate brunt of the catastrophes faced by the working class during the pandemic. More and more studies, surveys, and statistics reveal that on various grounds, including rates of unemployment, lay-offs, and pay gaps, women have been adversely impacted. On top of these, the burden of dual workload, in the domestic and professional spheres, for the women who have been able to sustain somehow, has been equally, if not more, exacerbating in terms of physical and mental well-being. Conversely, while the signals indicate pressing causes of concern, others also signify the increasing capacity of women to bounce back in these times of crisis.
The times of the pandemic have not just encouraged but rather compelled women to adjust to the shifting technological paradigm. A recent study of the leading e-learning platforms across the globe shows how women have taken the technological route to advance their careers and pave their way with greater opportunities through upskilling in times of the pandemic. Platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, and EdX are seeing a staggering increase in women enrolling in both practical and theoretical programmes to build better resilience in terms of the existing professional domain and its demands. This also includes a huge incline in STEM-related courses. Overall, the enrollment numbers of women on these platforms have seen a jump of more than 10-15% as compared to the pre-pandemic numbers.
While the digital divide may be attributed as the major reason behind the setback to women in rural areas in this regard, the urban, more digitally connected, areas paint a rosy picture for the future of the female. Flexible work from home and hybrid work models have allowed women to undertake opportunities they might have avoided earlier on the account of restrictions pertaining to relocation, matrimony, and pregnancy. These hybrid models offer women the incentive and the impetus to plan their day as per their varying levels of flexibility. With improved technical know-how and subsequently the erasure of temporal and physical limitations, chances that women would drop out of the labour force of their own accord have decreased substantially. Women now have the opportunity to turn into makers and regulators of their own professional destinies.
“These hybrid models offer women the incentive and the impetus to plan their day as per their varying levels of flexibility. With improved technical know-how and subsequently the erasure of temporal and physical limitations, chances that women would drop out of the labour force of their own accord have decreased substantially. Women now have the opportunity to turn into makers and regulators of their own professional destinies.”
The marketplace of ideas, skills, and creativity has also allowed women to bounce back with independent enterprises of their own, and the technological means have allowed them to utilise the wide geographical spread, per-head and per-house reach, influence, speed and attention it offers to gain financial independence. Behind this ascending trajectory of progress is clearly the highly determined woman who continues to defy challenges by identifying the underlying opportunity to grapple with the new challenges facing the world of work.
The technological advances and the global swing towards e-learning and skill-development is not just a hopeful portal for women to emerge stronger from the grips of the current global crisis, but it also offers a huge spread of opportunity for states and governments to utilise. Data from the World Economic Forum suggests that women’s participation in the workforce is imperative to boost growth and revive the economy in India. Adaptation of women to the technological skillset required in today’s day and age for increased productivity is what state policy must tap on at the earliest. While active state policy is essential to ensure that the digital divide is bridged as soon as possible, the slow progress of the hybrid and remote model of work could be institutionalised and corporates encouraged to preserve healthy gender ratios among employees in the formal sector, notwithstanding the pre-existing gender divides in the unregulated society.
Skill development takes even further precedence. States must rethink the term ‘skills’ in tandem with the term ‘female’ and extend support on levels much beyond the traditional roles in which women have so far been envisaged. Women enrolled in government-sponsored programmes must be qualitatively evaluated in terms of their output, productivity levels, and the substantial material of the skill being taught, rather than the conventional approach of the number of hours they’re taught on the whole. While primary and secondary education plays a major role in this aspect, it is essential that women be given the independence to design their course curricula as per what their professional goals demand, and as per what they feel they’d be best at in the first place. Locally bred innovation can be encouraged and women can be given the opportunity to blend them with the needs of the current global market. Financial, logistical, and infrastructural support will help enable women to bounce back quicker, stronger, more determined, and more encouraged than ever before. This is especially important in the time of the current health and economic crisis.
“States must rethink the term ‘skills’ in tandem with the term ‘female’ and extend support on levels much beyond the traditional roles in which women have so far been envisaged.”
The pandemic has opened our eyes to new truths and new realities. It has driven the world to utter confusion, but it has also led to new ways of thinking in terms of opportunity and cost-benefit analysis. Women have often been the pioneers of change and reform. With the pandemic at its head pushing the contemporary world to the much-needed tide of the digital, let the women lead from the front; let them open their eyes to an ocean of opportunities, to a world of knowledge and the magic of a changed time. As women take up the reins of their destinies, let us promise them unfettered support. Let’s empower them to help themselves and #MakeWayforHer.