Bridging the pandemic induced gender gap through Upskilling and Reskilling

Written by Manasa Sai & Nisha Chandran

It’s been nearly a year since COVID-19 toppled the world along with radically shifting the way we work, causing massive unemployment, and creating anxiety for both employers and workers. COVID-19 has also brought in mobility changes for millions of people across the globe. Jobs that were performed from 9 to 5 are no longer the same. People shifted their attitude towards how they viewed Work. The pandemic also shifted gender roles at Organizations, and in our households. Initially, women from various Organizational sectors lost their jobs, and eventually, men also started losing their jobs. One significant reason why women have been hit hard by job losses is the economic impact of the pandemic in service sectors where women are employed in large numbers, especially in low-skill jobs. Crisis always tends to expose and exacerbate areas of existing inequality. In this case, it has become clear that women—and to a greater extent, minority women and mother’s workforce participation declined from 24.8% to 22.3% in India as stated by the World Economic Forum report.

However, one biggest gap that Organizations are trying to address to date is the “Gender Gap”. An attrition rate of 29.2% was recorded for women in professional and technical roles. The share of women in senior and managerial positions remains at 14.6% and there are only 8.9% of firms with female top managers. At the same time, the pandemic also introduced flexible working for everyone and created new positions that need women’s expertise more than ever. Since our new normal keeps changing, there is a strong need to revamp the existing job roles that can bring in more women to the workforce using “Upskilling and Reskilling”. COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on ways of working have further exposed the inadequacies of our current economic structures to address this growing mismatch between people’s current skills and those needed for the new job roles created. Optimizing our workforce to the best of our ability and set ourselves up for success can be accomplished by identifying the current skill gap in our Organizations. In order to bridge the pre-existing gender inequalities and to correct the pandemic induced imbalance in job losses, it is critical that we enable more women to join the workforce across all sectors and levels. One of the best ways Organizations can accomplish this by “Upskilling and Reskilling”. 

Upskilling Vs Reskilling

Upskilling is the process of learning additional skills or enhancing existing abilities to accomplish a goal, whereas Reskilling is learning a new set of skills or training for a new role, often with the goal of transitioning to a new job, restarting careers for Second Career women , or move to a different industry. Reskilling is defined as training for employees who have shown that they have the aptitude for learning a completely new occupation in an Organizational setting. For example, an admin job that becomes obsolete will need to learn new skills to perform a different job within the same organization, such as a web developer. Upskilling focuses on providing training for employees who need to learn new skills to improve their performance without changing their position or career path. An example is a Data Analyst who is currently using his PowerPoint to display numbers to a stakeholder who may have to upskill to Tableau for process automation as the organization implements this new technology.

The Benefits of “Upskilling and Reskilling”

In addition to cutting costs, reskilling and upskilling instils employees with motivation and commitment towards their company.When organizations make it a priority to actively invest in their employees’ learning and development, along with increased loyalty, their levels of retention, employee satisfaction, and productivity also rise. In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87% of executives experienced skills gaps in their workforce. However, only less than half of them were clear about their strategy to overcome the problem. This is where reskilling in particular can play a significant role. Businesses can look to hiring and promoting women from within the existing workforce. Reskilling also helps organizations impart the kind of institutional knowledge that will not be available outside the Organization. For instance, there might be processes that helped individuals customize certain IT products within an organization and this knowledge can be termed as “Core Knowledge”. This core knowledge can be a major asset in their new roles. This focus on upskilling and reskilling will help women stay updated with current employment trends and will ensure that they get equal opportunities in all sectors. Every sector requires more skilled women because of the ever-changing business needs.

  • Focused on upskilling women professionals at mid managerial level can create a pipeline of women leaders
  • Reskilling offers an exciting strategy for bringing women on a career-break, mid-career, and second-career back to work
  • Organizations with a balanced workforce armed with the most important skills of the day can find success in the digital age of tomorrow

Some factors that Organizations need to consider before “Upskilling and Reskilling”

The first step before investing in either “Upskilling or Reskilling” is to analyze an Organization’s skill gap. An Organization needs to understand the areas within that must be first focussed. It is vital to understand if this problem exists because of a “Skill-Gap”. Upon analyzing this, Organizations need to look into their existing resources to check if women can be reskilled to perform a certain task. If the Organization finds the attrition rate in a certain department to be higher than usual, the immediate next step would be to work towards gender balance. That can be done by either Reskilling the existing women professionals from another department who are interested in a change of role, or by Upskilling women and positioning them onto roles where the Organization deems fit. Skilling can either be provided internally or externally. Organizations can use this opportunity to work towards achieving their DEI goals by reaching out to experts who specialize in this as well.  

To conclude, reskilling employees and investing in upskilling them can boost global GDP by USD 6.5 trillion by 2030 and by USD 570 billion in India alone, according to a World Economic Forum (Global Gender Gap Report 2021, 30 March 2021). Research states that regions and economies in which the skills gaps are identified early on, and acted upon quickly through focused initiatives have immense potential to improve productivity through skills augmentation aligned with new technology. If organizations focus on this skilling aspect well, India’s economic output could be the third after China and the USA (Upskilling for Shared Prosperity, 21 Jan 2021).


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