Editorial Team

The rise of the gig economy in the wake of COVID-19 has the potential to boost women’s employment in the formal sector. The adoption of new technologies could create better opportunities for women; however, re-skilling will be crucial to expand opportunities for women in the formal sector, according to a new study- The Future of Work for Women in the Formal Sector in India, undertaken jointly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), with support from the government of Japan.

The study conducted through a survey and direct interactions with over 150 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Chief Experience Officers (CXOs) from manufacturing and service sectors underscores the fast-changing work environment, where technology will change the world of work, with the potential to expand opportunities for women working in the formal sector. The survey responses indicate that the loss of jobs for women in the formal sector during the COVID-19 pandemic could be temporary in nature, and women could gradually get back into the workforce.

Around 57% of the respondent firms agree that the gig economy will itself expand and boost women’s employment because it is based on flexible, temporary, or freelance jobs, often involving connecting with clients or customers through an online platform. This underscores that alternative work arrangements in the gig economy have the potential to absorb more women and increase their participation in the workforce.

A boost in the use of digital technology and increased acceptance of virtual working for sales and distribution jobs, could open opportunities for women to enter fields where interactions are managed through apps and phone calls, states the study.

“The study on The Future of Work for Women in the Formal Sector in India indeed gives hope for a better future with more employment opportunities for women. However, concerted efforts are needed to understand how new technologies are impacting specific industries and to address challenges facing women in entering or remaining in the workplace”, stated Nadia Rasheed, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in India, at the formal launch event of the study.

The survey also reflects that some key sectors that are likely to see an increase in women’s employment are health and pharmaceuticals (by 59%), electrical and electronics (by 44 %), and Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (perishable goods) industry (by 41 %). At the same time, women’s employment in the finance and accounting divisions may moderately change due to the adoption of new technology.

“We are glad that we received a very positive response from the industry. We are thankful that over 150 CXOs from over 30 sectors took out time and shared their genuine feedback and comments for this study. Also, we are keen to take this work ahead and create a clear road map of a successful career for future-ready women workforce in India”, stated Mr. Dilip Chenoy, Secretary-General of FICCI, India.

Around 73% of the respondent firms agree that re-skilling, specifically in the formal sector – is likely to play a crucial part in shaping the work of tomorrow. 83% of those who agreed to the skilling proposition also indicate that re-skilling will be crucial to absorb more women into the world of work in India. For example, providing computer programming skills for women working on the assembly lines can help equip them better to keep pace with modern technology.

To safeguard the interest of both employers and employees, some labor laws and regulations are required in the changing world of work, states the new study. Also, documenting best practices across the globe on how different industries are using new technologies and at the same time creating job opportunities for women would help create supportive policies.

The survey findings state that work from home (WFH) or remote working will be the ‘new normal’ with advanced technologies such as digital information, artificial intelligence, robotization, and machine learning. The study associates a low level of technical skills with increasing levels of adverse impact, with the caveat that the time or pace of old jobs to be fully replaced by automation is uncertain, which may create unemployment for some time in India.

Interestingly the study also reveals that in high-skill and low-skill jobs, the impact of technology is gender-neutral. It is the medium-skill jobs that have gender differentials because they require a blend of cognitive work and manual routine work, and gender can play a role here. In high-skill jobs, finding the right skill to do the job is the most important criterion, and the candidate whether is a man or woman hardly matters. In low-skill jobs in India, there is wage parity, and thus employers may have an equal ratio of employees which reflects no gender bias.

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