Over the last year, millions of people’s lives have been disrupted because of the pandemic and more recently Russia’s attack on Ukraine. This has had a profound impact on lives and livelihoods around the world. On international women’s day, let us acknowledge the resilience of Ukrainian women and girls, particularly those separated from their loved ones.
Across Europe and the UK, growing inequalities continue to deeply affect individuals and communities. This has serious consequences for education, economic and social outcomes. Overall, almost half a billion workers worldwide are affected by some form of labour under-utilisation (International Labour Organisation (ILO, 2020).
Recent international research conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, published in the Lancet (March 2022) shows that during the pandemic women have experienced greater negative social and economic impacts than men. The greatest and most persistent gender gap was seen in employment and uncompensated labour, with 26% of women reporting loss of work compared with 20% of men globally in September 2021. Women and girls were also more likely to drop out of school and more likely to report an increase in gender-based violence than men and boys. The evidence suggests that Covid-19 has tended to exacerbate previously existing social and economic disparities rather than create new inequalities. Women were more likely than men to report forgoing paid employment to care for others, with the gender gap widening over time.
The present situation could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality, decent work and inclusion. In England, the Women and Equalities Committee (2021) highlighted long standing gender differences in sectors, occupations, earnings, working hours, and employment security including (p.7). The Government Equalities Office (GEO) describes one of its main strategic objectives as “putting equalities at the heart of Government. Urgent steps are needed for women leadership, equality in decision-making power, and greater involvement in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) advancements.
Addressing inequality is good economics as well as furthering social justice. Bridging the digital gender divide, promoting lifelong learning, encouraging skills development and the inclusion of migrants and refugees as contributors in society requires new solutions and ideas for action. A wicked question to be resolved by policymakers, educationalists and employers is where can girls and women go to for trustworthy careers information, advice and guidance on a lifelong basis?
In today’s world, technology and humans working together is considered vital. For example, “cities of the future will be places where every car, phone, air conditioner, light and more are interconnected, bringing about the concept of energy efficient smart cities” (Wensley, 2021). We live in a digital age where human-machine partnerships will not only help organise our lives, but they will also transform job search, deliver products and services, and support professional development.
In 2020, a small team of academics and technical developers embarked on a journey of discovery. With the support of NESTA/DfE funding (CareerTech Challenge), the team built a friendly bot called ‘CiCi’, providing personalised careers information and advice available 24/7. This year CiCi is currently being piloted in some UK further and higher education settings, training provision and skills bootcamps. The anonymised dashboards that accompany this provide insight to what local people are searching for and how this compares to projected labour market skills shortages.
Within multi-agency place-based initiatives, collective action must be taken not only reverse the current disparities but also to support individuals and families to adapt and prosper in our changing world. Labour market intelligence must be able to reach more people. There is growing evidence of people attempting to change the way they work to better control and direct their own work hours. Alongside this, there is an urgent need to increase innovation and productivity in the workforce. More women and girls must be empowered to look after their career development on a lifelong basis.
Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE is Director, DMH Associates (Exeter) and Co-Director of CareerChat Ltd. She is also Honorary Associate Professor at the Warwick University, Institute for Employment Research (IER).
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