As countries keep struggling to overcome the effects of the pandemic, women continue to be among the most affected – both at home and at work. The barriers women face in the workplace are already well-documented, and there’s mounting evidence that this is getting worse. Many women who have held onto their jobs have found their work and parenting responsibilities all but impossible to manage. And women who are not caring for children or other dependents are not exempt from tougher career challenges.
Disproportionate job losses and workplace marginalization stem from the same root: undervaluing the contributions of women workers. However, as highlighted by Ammerman and Groysberg, losing sight of gender equity now is likely to put firms at a real disadvantage when the pandemic begins to recede. When firms overcome the biases that lead to undervaluing female talent, they can gain a competitive edge. Call it an inclusive advantage.
How to advance gender equality at an industry level?
Zooming in on Jamaica’s Global Services Sector (GSS), a bourgeoning industry with over 70% women that includes everything from telemedicine to IT support, we recognized significant gender imbalances that might negatively impact the sector’s ability to grow in high value-added, global digital services. This reality led us to consider a bigger picture: what if countries addressed these issues at an industry level?
As highlighted in previous articles, Jamaica’s GSS realized how important it was to have a clear vision as to “where” it was going and how this view could be used to empower and guide employees. In this strategic vision, leaders also took action to mitigate gender imbalances. In 2020, the GSS industry commissioned a study to better understand career progression by gender. What the industry found was that while women dominate employment in sector, they are mostly in positions that could be replaced by Artificial Intelligence and therefore more likely to lose their jobs in the short-term as the industry evolves to more value-added technology-based services.
The study also showed that, while there are no deliberate gender-based barriers to entry in the sector, there is a pay difference based on the type of account to which persons are assigned. Since women are underrepresented in ICT and STEM accounts, which have a higher base pay, there is a pay gap which favors men. This seems to be consistent with the evidence. An article by Adermann points to how STEM careers are often painted as ‘masculine’ careers, which, combined with the lack of visible female role models, makes these careers generally less attractive to girls. Despite these societal barriers, many women do obtain degrees and join the STEM workforce. However, once in the workforce, they face more barriers to their progress.
The industry understood that to be competitive their transformation to higher value-services needed more gender balance. The underrepresentation of women in STEM is concerning. As stated in the Vision 2025 of the IDB, jobs in these and other areas linked to the digital transformation are central to innovation and economic growth. Promoting diversity in these fields increases creativity and productivity, which in turn leads to greater innovation. STEM is far too important to our society and future for women to be so underrepresented.
With the information on the gender imbalances the industry faces, it now can take action to mitigate them.
The work environment in GSS firms is often described as demanding. Research has shown that workers in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector are vulnerable to stress and burnout due to the demands to improve operational efficiencies, meet performance standards and satisfy customers. Women are considered the most vulnerable to stress, given the dual roles they play in managing their households and carrying out their work functions.
What is the GSS in Jamaica doing to promote female employment?
Since before the pandemic, the GSS in Jamaica had a vision of addressing gender-imbalance as evolved. With IDB support, the Career Pathway Framework will enable women to manage their career and opt for new opportunities in new knowledge-intensive segments. The GSS competitive fund will prioritize firms that empower women to opt for these higher-value positions such as in ICT and STEM, both in terms of timing and financing. Starting on 2022, this fund will provide incentives for firms that want to upskill, reskill and tap into new training modules to empower its employees to pivot into higher value services. The Government of Jamaica, via JAMPRO, and the industry, via its Sector Skills Council, will co-fund these training modules to support firms as they embark in their transformation process.
Another way in which the GSS is promoting gender equality is through its messaging and marketing communications. In collaboration with its key stakeholders, the sector will highlight the successes of female industry figures in ICT and STEM-related roles and promote mentorship programs for both current and aspiring employees. The ultimate goal is changing the narrative and enabling access for women to emerging opportunities in those fields.
Jamaica’s example shows that the industry and government’s strategy helps firms create new and better jobs as they move to higher value segments. It also puts workers at the center while advancing gender equality at industry level, taking a human-centered approach to empower current and new GSS workers to be a part of the industry’s evolution.