The times they are a-changing. These words are as true today as when they were sung in 1964 by Bob Dylan. Maybe the rate of change is faster today, or we are just more aware of it because of the constant bombardment of information. The shortage of women in technology has been a constant over my 30-year career as an Industrial Engineer, and in a heartbeat, it might be changing as businesses struggle to survive in the wake of the coronavirus.
A government mandate moved jobs from the office almost overnight to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Companies went from gradual adoption of technology to immersion. Survival to remain in business overshadowed their fear of technology (technophobia). But what does this mean for the workforce? Will these unprecedented changes present opportunities for women to have it all, a career, a family and a life?
Nearly one-quarter of women employed today will be impacted by automation of repetitive routine functions
The way we work has changed, creating a virtual workforce with greater access to the internet, and changing the dynamics. Previously, experts predicted a gradual shift, with 54% of all employees worldwide needing significant reskilling and upskilling due to automation. While men and women would be affected equally by automation adoption, women would be impacted more because of their aversion to technology, and limited access to the internet (globally, men are 33% more likely to have access to the internet than women and the gap worsens when focusing on women in poor, urban communities). Experts suggest that nearly one-quarter of women employed today (as many as 160 million women globally) would be impacted by a gradual shift to automation. In today’s environment, the rapid introduction of technology is forcing women to quickly overcome their fears.
Skills in demand will shift in response to automation, reducing the need for basic cognitive, physical and manual skills. Some predict that jobs will require an increase in technical skills by 55%, and social/emotional skills by 24%. Their underlying assumption is that artificial intelligence and robotics will handle repetitive routine functions. For example, in healthcare, adoption of preregistration by mobile, computerized checkout, billing, and AI-driven diagnostics will reduce clerical work. The change in job functions is expected to change job skills and increase the level of education required, significantly impacting the applicant pool. Companies are already having difficulty finding qualified applicants for existing jobs.
We can build digital-fluence by upskilling. According to the BCG–World Economic Forum research 95% of workers who are at risk of being phased out by technology could be retrained for jobs in technology that offer better pay and advancement opportunities. Jobs in technology are changing rapidly with the half-life of a job skill five years and falling. This may reduce the barriers to entry because everyone will be relatively new to the field.
Future technology jobs will require transferable skills gained from non-technical jobs and volunteer experience and specialized skills which can be learned
It is time to embrace the culture of continual learners. With women holding 56% of university degrees, they will be positioned for technology even if their undergraduate degree is not in science or technology. Future technology jobs will require a blended skill set, consisting of specialized and basic skills. The specialized skills will differ by industry and can be learned. While basic skills are transferrable and can come from non-technical jobs, or volunteer experiences. Basic skills include:
- Critical thinking
- Analytical skills and problem solving (for data drive decision making)
- Collaboration and communication
What prevents women from a career in technology? Most of the time we hold ourselves back. It might be the fear of doing something new or a matter of self-confidence. Maybe we are more risk-averse than men or believe that men are better at math and technology. These narratives are simply not true. Women may lack a support network, but we have the skills to be successful. Code written by women was accepted 78.6% of the time which is 4% more than code written by men.
The training you need to become competitive for future technology jobs is available the internet. Divide your self-development into four steps:
- Embrace your ability to learn and succeed. Data and technology may seem scary but only because you lack knowledge or confidence.
- Find the industry that interests you and research the technologies they need. Read job descriptions or speak with people in the roles you are interested in.
- Identify your transferable skills. Think about your previous expertise, either at work or volunteer activities. Compare them with the positions that interest you.
- Find the training to fill your skill gaps.
Companies are encouraging continual learning, and so should you! With the abundance of on-line classes, take a risk, and take a chance, and transform yourself into a digital native. Times…they sure are changing! Invest in yourself because the future is now.