Bloomberg Línea — The complicated scene that was already depicted a few years ago by the boom of the digital economy in terms of women’s labor inclusion was further aggravated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to automation and the use of technologies on larger scales that in turn open up new gender gaps.
OF all the regions, Latin America has seen a reversal of almost two decades in women’s labor participation rates in the wake of sanitary crisis, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Meanwhile, around 25 million women in the region were unemployed as of March of last year, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, said in February that it was a matter of priority to pay attention to the new employment trend and its impact on women in order to develop a balanced job market, considering that women’s participation rate in the labor market is 20% lower than that of men worldwide.
The fact is that job creation has revolved exponentially around the digital economy, which has left aside the sectors in which women are most present, making it particularly difficult for them to re-enter the workforce.
Female workers with lower levels of education and aged 40 or older, and who have traditionally relied on administrative, service, hospitality and sales jobs, are disproportionately impacted, as their work tasks tend to be more prone to automation, according to the IMF.
According to ECLAC, 56.9% of women in Latin America and 54.3% in the Caribbean are linked to sectors that are expected to have a greater negative impact.“Moving people from here to there requires great skills and, we are not seeing programs that boost these skills in the most distressed countries.”
“Moving people from here to there requires great skills and, we are not seeing programs that boost these skills in the most distressed countries.”Kristalina Georgieva
Lack of digital skills to thrive
In face of the gaps, stereotypes, roles and constraints, according to IMF research, “women appear to be less endowed with some of the skills needed to thrive in the digital age.” Given the tasks they perform, it is estimated that 180 million women’s jobs globally are at high risk of being eliminated in the next 20 years.
In the region, women represent between 30% and 35% of graduates in the “careers of the future” of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), highlighted as the engine of sustainable development, according to UN Women and Unesco. But in the transition to the labor market, less than 30% of researchers are women.
The greatest underrepresentation is observed in the area of technologies and engineering worldwide, where only one in five ICT professionals are women, representing 28% of engineering professionals and only occupying 22% and 12% of the workforce in the disciplines of artificial intelligence and machine learning, respectively.
By 2050, an estimated 75% of jobs will require STEM skills.
Maria Noel Vaeza, UN Women’s regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, points out another negative factor in a comment to Bloomberg Linea:
“Many of the women were not able to work remotely because they did not have access to the internet or because the cost of having it (devices and service) was too onerous. In Latin America, 70 million women still do not use mobile internet,” she said.
At the current rate, parity would be reached by 2100, Magdalena Furtado, Director of Programs at UN Women Uruguay, told EFE.
These numbers highlight the need for governments to focus on policies that strengthen digital literacy with a gender perspective, empower women in the changing labor landscape by providing skills to address the gender digital divide and facilitate the transition of affected women workers.
Here are two organizations that are helping to close the gap in the sector:
Chicas en Tecnología: Based in Argentina, it started operations in 2015 and currently covers more than five countries in the region, working on the incorporation and accompaniment of women in the sector under a social approach, to transform users into creators.
At the time of its birth, Chicas En Tecnología (CET) was also responsible for compiling some of the first evidence of the gaps that existed and persist, Paula Coto, executive director of CET, told Bloomberg Línea.
Currently, CET offers programs, workshops, webinars and innovation spaces — all free of charge, for women between 13 and 23 years old, mainly based on programming language, user experience, data analysis and computational thinking, as well as entrepreneurship and motivation.
CET’s motive behind these plans, which can be supplemented over the months, is that the students develop a high-tech solution to a problem in their community. “This gives us a look at how they think about the technology that aims to create more egalitarian spaces with better opportunities for development and with a more social purpose that the technology we use in general does not have. They are the ones who put this perspective on the table,” says Coto.
La directora de CET explicó que un factor que no se comunica es el hecho de que la tecnología está creada principalmente por hombres: “Eso también hace que las mujeres sean apartadas del ecosistema, solo para dar una idea, el 94% de las aplicaciones que usamos está creada por una mirada masculina”.
Alrededor de 11.000 mujeres se han visto beneficiadas de las actividades de CET desde sus inicios, lo que se ha reflejado en la creación de 1.100 soluciones, de las cuales una gran parte se alinean con los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible de la ONU.
“The virtualization process was also a great time to show them the opportunity they have within the (digital) marketplace which opens up more doors and how they too are potential candidates to join,” she said
One of CET’s main focus is that at advanced educational levels there is no knowledge of models or references of women in these areas, so young women cannot choose paths that are not close to them or that they do not know.
“Our proposals end up bearing fruit at the time when they actually get their professional and labor projection within (STEM).” About 90% of the girls who go through CET are interested in technology.
The organization also offers an internship space, which is linked to its job portal so that graduates can connect directly with 30 hiring companies.
This year, Coto said, CET will launch its first mentoring program for young women already working in the industry.
Laboratoria: Founded eight years ago in Peru, Laboratoria is focused on training low-income women as programmers with a view to strengthening their insertion in the growing Latin American digital economy.
Laboratoria, with a presence that goes from Chile to Mexico passing through Colombia and Brazil, has 2,400 graduates with an employability rate of 85%, and an increase of almost three times more in the average income of those who graduate.
“Women deserve to be in the sector that today offers the best opportunities and we are aligned to reverse the inequality of access to quality jobs,” Ofelia Reyes, Laboratoria’s Bootcamp Manager says.
The organization started as a software development agency, said Reyes, but “the founders came across the need to diversify their teams, and realized that it was very difficult to have women applying, so they changed their focus to developing opportunities.
Their project is based on an intensive six-month bootcamp focused on web development and user experience, as well as workshops and mentoring for women 18 years of age and older. Once the graduates get a job in technology, they return between 30 and 50% of the investment made by Laboratoria for the training.
“We want them to be able to develop the necessary skills in a short period of time to start a career, it is about learning how to learn. To develop what is highly demanded in the market today and to flow transversely with leadership, negotiation and problem-solving skills,” says the Laboratoria spokeswoman. “The model is designed to be a work simulation so that upon graduation they can feel that they are continuing in a similar space.
Because of the pandemic, the bootcamps went remote, allowing more women to join. “Now we are getting closer to the idea of having a bootcamp with women from different countries.”
In 2021, 407 women graduated and 81% started working in technology within six months of graduating with an average monthly salary of US$1,000.
“We are proud that sometimes our graduates become the first women in the technology teams of companies, and about 30% of them now occupy a leadership position,” said the lawyer, who shared a particular experience: In generation 10 in Mexico, we had a student who turned 50 during the course of the program and today is a web developer on the Clip team.
Laboratoria is linked to 950 contracting companies, including Avanade, Bradesco, Ecomsur, Walmart, AstraZeneca, Citigroup, IBM and Konecta.
“We dream of a Latin America in which women no longer bear the brunt of every crisis due to inequalities. We want to see economies where the benefits of booming sectors, such as technology, are shared equally. A region where no woman is left behind:” an excerpt from CEO Mariana Costo’s message at the presentation of a recent report.