In this article, Betty Vandenbosch discusses the importance of online learning for achieving women’s growth, prosperity and equality. Highlighting the barriers women face in traditional education, Betty argues that online learning provides flexibility, safety, and cost-effective opportunities for women to gain the skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace. Governments, businesses and educators must invest in equitable upskilling to ensure women have the tools to close the gender pay gap and positively contribute to a prosperous, developed economy.
Progress toward gender parity has slowed globally. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recent Global Gender Gap Report warns that it will now take 132 years to close the global gender pay gap — up from an estimated 100 years, just two years ago.
But how do we close the gap? We often assume equality is the answer. After all, equality provides everyone with the same rights, resources and opportunities. It is a good starting point, but when one considers the additional barriers women face in education and work – the pay gap, mobility, gender prejudice, safety and caregiving — it becomes apparent that more needs to be done. Online education is a good place to start.
Online Learning: Fundamental to Enabling Women’s Growth & Prosperity
Women who struggle to access traditional educational institutions – often because of caregiving responsibilities – can achieve the education required to upskill themselves and bolster their salary through online learning. Online learning options have become a lifeline for many women for whom in-person learning has not been possible. The WEF report shows that 60% of women caregivers would postpone studying or not study at all if online learning was not an option and 26% of women report they feel safer and more comfortable learning online. The flexibility and safety that online education provides has the potential to break down barriers that have historically disadvantaged women.
Within our ever-evolving society, learning opportunities for women are critical.. For example, the STEM industries have strived for a more diverse representation, yet women make up only 28% of the STEM workforce. Online professional certifications in this area could help as they provide the opportunity to gain industry-recognised qualifications while accommodating the learner’s ongoing personal and professional obligations. Flexibility is particularly important for women in emerging economies, as highlighted by a recent Coursera and IFC (World Bank) study, in which family obligations were cited as one of the most important factors when deciding to enroll in a course.
The range, cost and accessibility of online courses can also encourage more women into underrepresented fields. Online learning opportunities range from professional certifications (offered by Meta, Google and AWS among others), to short courses and micro-credentials, which take less time to complete..
The Future of Women in Work Depends on Online Learning
The evolution of high-demand skills, resulting from changing job requirements due to automation and digital transformation have become the norm. To remain relevant in the workplace, adult learners, and particularly women, will increasingly need to commit themselves to the mindset of lifelong learning. Those who embrace online learning opportunities and develop in-demand skills will thrive the most.
WEF research shows that 37% of people reported a positive career outcome from online learning, either by landing a new job, starting a new business, or generally improving performance. Strikingly, however, the IFC reveals women are more likely than men to depend on free courses and are less likely to have access to funding. The absence of a clear funding source could be the reason why women are less likely to pursue long-term, multi-course certifications. Lack of funding, coupled with inequitable access to learning opportunities in these areas could further increase the gender pay gap.
It is for this very reason that governments, businesses and educators must invest in equitable upskilling while cultivating a culture of lifelong, continuous learning: an essential driver to close the gender gap, and to support a prosperous, developed economy. The World Bank recognises that quality education offers significant returns on investment, ranging from higher quality employment and greater productivity and innovation to increased civic engagement and better health outcomes. To reap the rewards of equitable learning, access to online education must be put into motion now, to drive women’s economic empowerment and close the gender pay gap once and for all.