Flexible, hybrid work is here to stay. That was the prevailing sentiment from Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index (WTI). This is good news for innovation. Why? Because innovation surges when diversity increases, and one thing that remote and hybrid workplaces have enabled is more diverse hiring.
The WTI notes that remote-work opportunities were found to be more attractive to diverse applicants: women, Gen Z job seekers (those currently aged 18 to 25), and those without a graduate degree, were more likely to apply for remote positions on LinkedIn.
For gendered diversity in the workplace, remote work is driving much-needed improvement. Global statistics on gender equality in employment reveal a deeply entrenched disparity, with men participating more in the labour force and advancing more within it than their female counterparts. Alarmingly, if we remain on the current hiring and promoting trajectory, it will take just over 135 years to close the gender gap worldwide. This was the finding of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its latest 2021 Global Gender Gap Report.
The pandemic has served to widen this gap, with WEF sharing early projections that show 5 per cent of all employed women lost their jobs in the resulting economic disruption, compared with 3.9 per cent of employed men. Women are also poorly represented in the Jobs of the Future sector. Such roles arose alongside digital transformation, which accelerated rapidly in response to the pandemic with businesses being forced to operate online during lockdown closures of physical spaces. WEF found that only two of the eight jobs of the future that they tracked had reached gender equality. For example, there are only 32.4 per cent of women in Data and AI-focused roles across the world.
Looking at the category of Economic Participation and Opportunity, WEF reported favourable results for sub-Saharan Africa, with the region having closed just over 66 per cent of the gender gap, outperforming the global average of 58.3 per cent. However, homing in on a per-country view shows this progress varies wildly.
Out of the 156 countries surveyed globally, Kenya comes in at 95 on the list for overall gender parity. It fares slightly better looking at gendered hiring and promoting, ranking 84 globally in the Economic Participation and Opportunity category, placing it at number 16 out of the 35 countries surveyed across sub-Saharan Africa.
While participation between men and women in Kenya’s labour force is roughly equal (9.1 million women versus 9.5 million men), senior roles are predominantly reserved for men. Only 18 per cent of Kenya’s firms have women in top management positions. Clearly, more work must be done to bridge the employment gender divide in Kenya.
Being able to work remotely has opened many new career opportunities for workers across the globe. Not being confined to one geographical area means the ability to accept jobs based anywhere. As the WTI notes, “this fundamental shift expands economic opportunity for individuals and enables organisations to build high-performing, diverse teams from a near-limitless talent pool.”
The index found that the number of women applying for remote work over locally based jobs on LinkedIn increased by six per cent. This growing trend presents an opportunity for business leaders to hire a more diverse team where women are equally represented. On how employers can help nurture this trend for a more representative workforce, the WTI asked LinkedIn Chief Economist Karen Kimbrough for her expert advice. “Employers can help by actively seeking female talent, removing bias from job descriptions, and offering more flexibility to allow for a better work-life balance.”
In attracting the right talent from a diverse group of applicants, businesses will be setting themselves up for the kind of innovative thinking required for the future of work. Diverse businesses are more profitable, too, according to a McKinsey and Company study published in 2020. The study found that companies whose executive teams were gender diverse were 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than less-diverse businesses. This underscores the importance of not only hiring women but of promoting them into senior roles as well.
It’s incredible to see how technology, as an enabler of remote and hybrid working, is proving a useful tool in bridging some of society’s most divisive gaps. As a driver for social improvement, technology should be embraced and applied thoughtfully to shape the kind of diverse and flexible workplace environment that will not only boost morale and improve company culture but also increase the bottom line. Successful businesses are at the heart of any economy, but it’s the people working in these businesses that make the magic happen. Businesses would be wise to build innovative workforces of the future; workforces where gender diversity is upheld.
Hoda Younan is Marketing and Operations Director for Microsoft Middle East and Africa.