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How tech can enable more women in the workforce

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As we concluded Women’s Month in August, we were served a bitter and cold dish in the form of Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for Q2 2021, with South Africa recording the highest unemployment rate since 2008. 

Around 34% of the population is unemployed. That’s 7.8 million jobless people, the majority of which are women. The rate of unemployment among women is 36.8%, compared to 32.4% among men. What’s more, men are more likely to be in paid employment than women, regardless of their race. 

 There’s a lot of talk about the future of work and how operational models are shifting to revolve more around individuals than workplaces. The good news is that technology has enormous potential to empower more women in the workplace and in entrepreneurship. 

The changing nature of work 

 The future of work presents an opportunity, particularly for women who have been playing catchup with their male counterparts for the longest time. Women who care for their families and children can benefit from the convenience of remote work, especially when considering how much time can be saved between travelling to and from work. 

 Zanele Njapha, a futurist and unlearning expert, says work is being moulded around the individual rather than the workplace. She believes most individuals have realised how they can shape work around them; this is after many people resigned from their jobs after being recalled to the office. In what has been called ‘the great resignation’, people are realising that working remotely suits them better. 

“Previously, our entire lives have been moulded around work: the kind of clothes we wear, the cars we drive, where our children go to school, who we marry. But the most exciting thing we see changing is how most of us have realised that we can mould work around our lives, not the other way around. We can now mould work around who we are, what we like, what we prefer, and when we choose to work,” she says. 

The rise of the gig economy 

This new nature of work is largely enabled by the platform or gig economy. Interestingly, women in Africa are more likely than men to be entrepreneurs, with women making up 58% of the continent’s self-employed population. This means that women can use their innate entrepreneurial spirit to embrace the gig economy.

There is immense potential in these spaces, and it’s crucial for individuals, particularly women, to change their mindsets about work. This sentiment is expressed by Emma El-Karout, founder and managing director at One Circle, a community of freelance HR consultants. According to her, it’s crucial that people – especially the youth – rethink the idea of work and start educating themselves on the new global opportunities presented and enabled by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

“I would say a change in mindset is the start. There are a lot of platforms where individuals can learn and develop new skills. At the same time, the platform economy provides opportunities that are available anywhere around the world,” she says. 

Better education and awareness  

El-Karout believes a solution can arise at grassroots level by changing how we educate and prepare young people for this new way of working. The current education model, she says, has not evolved fast enough to keep up with and accommodate the pace of change in the world. 

“We are still educating young people with the same traditional ways of education while still expecting them to plug into the future of work easily. A lot needs to improve on the education side, one of which is how we prepare people to work virtually, digitally, and remotely.” 

The big challenge for most women, particularly in underserved areas, is that they don’t have enough information about such opportunities, which makes raising awareness about them crucial, says Roderick Wolfenden, Africa Markets Leader at EY. 

He believes that the government should play a more active role in ensuring that this type of information is available to the public and incentivises businesses to spread the word. 

Better management, HR, and new leadership styles 

“In a male-dominated industry such as ours, the onus is on organisations to introduce much more flexibility for women,” says Karina Brijlal, marketing manager at open source developer Red Hat Sub Saharan Africa. Karina believes that women’s wellness needs to become a more significant focus for organisations. 

“For women, working from home is both a blessing and a curse. While we’re certainly making headway in levelling out gender roles, women still assume responsibility for managing the household,” she says. 

Hope Lukoto, chief human resources officer at BCX, believes that more emphasis should be placed on work culture and leadership development. “We are now called to lead differently; resilience is the core of what every leader should be looking for in their people because change is constant; it’s going to happen,” she says. 

If employees don’t feel connected, supported, and appreciated, they’ll be less likely to stay with your business. Cloud HR software solutions can help you stay on top of everything you need to keep your workforce productive and your operations smooth. 

According to Nkuli Mbundu, regional sales manager at MicroStrategy, managers need more emotional intelligence than ever to do their jobs in these remote work scenarios. 

“Think about a mother of two children living in a two-bedroom house, who has no space to work from home and still has to drive the kids back and forth; the game has changed. It requires more EQ from a leadership perspective, and I think it’s critical for organisations to invest in those kinds of skills for management.”

Government intervention 

“Using the expanded definition of unemployment, which accounts for those discouraged from seeking work, the effective unemployment rate has increased to 44.4%. This means almost one out of two people in the country are out of work, and women, particularly those in rural areas, are the hardest hit,” says Mbundu. 

To address this, he believes the government should establish an enabling platform for private-sector tech companies to invest in digital enablement for women. 

“Be it in the form of tax breaks or other incentives, companies should be encouraged to provide free or subsidised education, delivered via online channels, to reach the furthest points in the country. This requires targeted recognition of women entrepreneurs and helping them develop the skills required for the new world of work.” 

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