Women comprise 48 per cent of India’s population. Yet, barely a fraction of them are empowered to become active drivers of India’s economic growth. In a landscape where AI is set to take over human intelligence, many reports including one by the World Economic Forum indicate that some of the sought-after skills for the 21st century workplace include emotional intelligence, creative problem solving, critical thinking and storytelling. If you think about it, these are actually innate abilities that many women are proficient in. While traits such as empathy, compassion and sensitivity that women are gifted with are perceived as “weak”, they are actually strengths that leaders should equip themselves with to solve problems in today’s work world. To perform roles as homemakers and mothers, many of them leverage these skills on a daily basis. Why can’t we then create a mechanism to train them to apply these in a workplace context?
For the youth in India in general, our education system primarily trains us in technical skills and academic knowledge — even though most large companies do not give as much importance to degrees any longer and are demanding “smart generalists”.
Two broad realities need to immediately change. First, women from lower income communities at scale only get access to job opportunities that require limited application of their creative and emotional intelligence. Their vision and aspirations need to be broadened. Second, women are only being “accommodated” in workforces to project equality on paper, but are rarely considered for leadership roles especially in conventional SMEs that actually create majority employment.
A multi-stakeholder approach needs to be adopted to ensure that gender, type of college and income background does not put any woman with a dream at a disadvantage. It should be easy for women from lower-income groups to aspire to be financial analysts, AI and ML (machine learning) experts, copywriters, product managers, entrepreneurs or CEOs.
Unemployability is a looming socio-economic and humanitarian crisis. A key contributing factor is the inequity in high quality exposure. Youth and women from elite institutions and privileged backgrounds are far more likely to be considered as “qualified” for aspiration roles due to their proficiency in new-age soft skills and the visible finesse in their conduct. While one cannot blame employers for demanding so, it becomes essential to build a mechanism which enables seekers from less privileged backgrounds to be at par.
Corporates and, more specifically, male leaders in positions of power must make an active effort towards creating equal opportunities and a secure environment. But that should not be out of charity or to project a diverse workforce. It should be because organisations see the immense value that women could add due to their proficiency in the most sought-after non-technical skills. This approach, we believe, will make it a win-win for women job-seekers as well as employers. Just getting a job is not enough, we need to see more women in positions of power and that can only happen if women are recognised and enabled for their strengths and not for them acting “like men”.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 18, 2021 under the title ‘The future is female’. Nanda is co-founder, Nimaya & Project Naveli; Chakrabarty is co- founder, Nimaya and X Billion Skills Lab
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