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Finding it Harder to Rejoin Workforce after Pandemic Blow, Indian Women Look to Scale Up Skills

While those from urban backgrounds are taking online courses women from rural backgrounds are yet to climb back to work.

While those from urban backgrounds are taking online courses women from rural backgrounds are yet to climb back to work.

An exponentially high number of women are taking the indirect route of online courses, for upskilling, to get back into the workforce.

A record-high number of women have left the workforce either by will or were handed pink slips due to the economic slump caused by the Covid-19 crisis. Now, these women are finding it harder than men to return to work. Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs, according to a report by McKinsey.

More women were laid off during the pandemic-led economic slump as compared to men. Internationally, the global labour force participation rate for women is close to 49%. For men, it’s 75%, according to International Labour Organisation (ILO). Globally, the total employment loss for women stands at 5% in 2020, versus 3.9% for men.

Many women are staying back home due to increased demand for unpaid care including support to children and spouses studying and working from home. Women who are trying to return to jobs have taken the upskilling route. There is an increase in the number of Indian women upskilling themselves using online learning platforms with an aim to get back to work.

“If no action is taken to address this gender gap, global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men," said Mayank Kumar, co-founder and MD, upGrad. He added that women are “disproportionately impacted" by the pandemic. “The income of an estimated 740 million women fell to 60% in the first month of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by UN Women. With such rampant fall in employment levels, women professionals have had to rethink the idea of upskilling to bounce back into the system," said Kumar.

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For Deval Singh, Business Head (Telecom, Media, Technology & Government), TeamLease Services, more alarming is that women who lost their jobs have not returned to work yet. “The pandemic has impacted women more physically, emotionally and financially. As per the World Bank data, the women’s labour force participation rate for India right now stands at 20.5%, falling behind most countries. Indian women spend six times more the amount of time as spent by men in daily household duties and responsibilities. Covid amplified those pressures and thus widened the gap."

“The obstacles that are hindering the progress of women in the workplace include time spent on domestic duties: 26% of women spend anywhere between 4 to 6 hours doing domestic chores, which can affect their work productivity. The other factors were social stigma against women in employment and gender stereotyping attitudes of some employers," informed Singh.

Among women who opt to join the workforce, factors such as marital status and location of jobs play a bigger role as compared to men. “More than 50% of the unmarried women learners were ready to relocate not just within their home state, but in other states too to build a stable career even during the pandemic. Male learners were more open to relocating irrespective of their marital status to build a stable career," said Divya, co-founder, Safejobs.

Now, an exponentially high number of women are taking the indirect route of online courses to get back into the workforce. A sudden spike in women taking online upskilling courses in India is no coincidence, as per experts.

UpGrad has reported a 90% increased intent amongst women learners in 2021 (Jan-Feb-March) as compared to the same period in 2020. In India, women make 27% of total learners as compared to 23% globally.

Coursera—the largest learning platform in India—has reported that India is second among women’s representation in the online platform, globally. Coursera’s Global Skills Report 2021 notes that participation of women learners has gone up from 38% in 2018-19 to 45% in 2020. India has shown one of the highest jumps. Of the total learners from India, before the pandemic, 25% were women. Now, the number is up at over 35%. Most enrolments are in STEM-related courses with 33% of learners from India in STEM courses on the platform being women.

“While women’s participation in the labour force is low, in the long-term, we may see this rise as the access to equal online education leads to equal employment opportunity," said Raghav Gupta, Managing Director, India and APAC, Coursera.

Most of these enrolments are from women with access to devices and the internet. Women from rural and lower-income backgrounds, however, are yet to get back to work. Suchita Dutta, executive director at Indian Staffing Federation, said that women are taking flexible job options including working from home. However, the facility is encashed by women from urban backgrounds. Flexi staffing witnessed a jump of 6% for urban women in 2020. In contrast, there is a dip in women’s participation specifically in rural areas. Sectors that were major employment drivers for women from rural areas were real estate, construction, farm, factory and domestic work, etc, have seen a major decline due to the pandemic, she said.

Businesses and governments have a great opportunity to bring change, said Nirmala Menon, Founder and CEO of Interweave Consulting. “As for businesses, they have the responsibility of partnering governments to make that a reality by promoting gender equality in all their processes whether at work, in the marketplace or community. And, in a society where gender role expectations place the greater burden on women for unpaid work, workplaces must support change by educating and promoting fair practices at work and in homes."

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first published:September 17, 2021, 11:46 IST