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Trend 21 December Dec 2020 0911 21 December 2020

Women and work, the outlook for 2021: five directions for a new career

Working women bore the main burden of the pandemic and consequent lockdown. Will things be the same next year too? Not for all and not necessarily. In some spheres, women hold the winning hand when it comes to jobs

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To bridge or at least lessen the gap, the Italian government is planning a significant number of new provisions. Its draft budget includes a 100% reduction in social security contributions (up to a maximum of 6,000 euro per annum) for companies who hire unemployed women over the two year period 2021-22. To increase the number of women in the workforce, the budget also foresees the establishment of a fund for female entrepreneurs “with a special focus on high-tech sectors.”

Plans also include non-repayable grants, zero or low interest rate loans and schemes providing management and technology support. The fund has made 20 million euro available for 2021 and the same amount for 2022. The scheme in support of women goes hand in hand with reductions in social security contributions for businesses hiring the under-35s (of any gender). These two categories have always been the most vulnerable in the world of work, the ones who are most likely to be “offloaded” as soon as things become difficult. And this crisis is proving to be no exception.

Shecession (she + recession) is the newly coined term to describe the fact that women are the main casualties in the social and economic disruption caused by the effects of the virus the world over. Yet, despite the uncertainty over how the pandemic will evolve, 2021 will not (only) be gloomy. “Many companies are in fact growing. But we don’t hear much about them because many others are struggling,” explain the experts at the Young Women Network, the association comprising 400 managers committed to the empowerment of young women. “The future will undoubtedly be digital, technological and sustainable: these spheres will offer the most career opportunities for women over the next few years, so it could be a good strategy to choose study courses along these lines.” Now let’s take a look at the most promising areas where women will find jobs.

  • Healthcare and medicine
    This is perhaps the most obvious one. Here women make up 70% of the workforce according to the World Health Organisation. However, in Europe just 25% are in leadership roles. The Coronavirus pandemic has revealed just how much healthcare systems need to be strengthened. And inevitably women will have the upper hand here. “The numbers show that there will be an increasing number of women with the skills, qualifications and work experience that was unimaginable just thirty years ago,” explains Isabella Frigerio, a specialist in general surgery and a signatory of the “Manifesto for a greater gender balance in healthcare” delivered to Italy’s president by the group “Donne Leader in Sanità” (women leaders in healthcare). “This large number of skilled women will gradually enter the workforce and then rise up the ranks until they reach the top,” Frigerio added in a conversation with the online publication Open. It is a complex process but “one thing is certain: so many publications, and many in the medical field, point out how the presence of women in leadership roles makes it more likely that doors will open for other women to advance their careers than when there are only men in leadership positions. In any case, this is enriching.”
  • Sustainability
    Sustainability is the way forward, the goal to aim for. The president of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, has also emphasised that the only way out of the crisis is a model of sustainable development. The green economy is one of the sectors to focus on, with green jobs and jobs relating to the circular economy. Upcycling, recycling and refurbishment were in fact the key words at the 2020 edition of the Premio Internazionale Tecnovisionarie® (Technovisionaries International Prize) which recognised ten female entrepreneurs, scientists and academics who have developed projects that respect nature and the environment. As their president Gianna Martinengo, founder of the prize and president of the association Women&Tech explains: “The future will depend on how much scientific research and innovation we can generate, to enable us to design new processes that do more with less.” This is principally an appeal to women.
  • Digital development
    Another sector of focus is the digital world. According to the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index that measures digital performance, Italy lacks digital human capital. The data are clear: the average score in Europe is 49.3 whereas Italy scores 32.5. “This - Maria Grazia Mattei, founder and president of MEET, the centre for digital culture recently inaugurated in Milan explains - means that both Italian women and men lack the basic, technological and cultural tools to keep apace of market needs, which negatively impacts the whole community.” That is why she says, “in 2021 it will be essential to boost and promote a greater ‘digital culture’.” And it all starts with education. At the beginning of 2020, Accenture Italy coined the word “Stemanesimo” (STEMism) when it described the company’s decision to focus on the recruitment, training and advancement of professionals with a hybrid background, those who combine both STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills with those associated with the humanities (watch the video - Italian). And it is in this latter sphere that women have historically ruled the roost.

  • Social sciences
    The pandemic has shown how much we need professionals with the skills to develop technological solutions that take into account the ethical aspect of innovation. In Europe, experts from diverse sectors have entered into discussions on the social implications of technology, emphasising how important it is that any advances should focus on the human mind and be of benefit to the whole of mankind. According to a study by Harvard University, philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists and experts in the social sciences have experienced the greatest employment and wage growth over the last thirty years. Why will there be a growing demand for these jobs? Because these experts (often women) contribute to a specific vision of the world: they teach us to look beneath the surface, to search for solutions in corners where nobody would dream of looking. “We believe it is important for the next generations to be flexible, and to develop transversal skills, the so-called soft skills, which will be in increasing demand to differentiate us from artificial intelligence,” the Young Women Network adds. “But they also have to focus on learning, resilience and the ability to interact with other generations. For all this to have any meaning, it is key that we overcome gender bias and any kind of stereotyping starting with our own ‘ecosystems’.”
  • Gender issues and rights
    In a rapidly evolving world where the inequality gap risks becoming even wider, we cannot leave anyone behind. Italian companies are also beginning to tackle and promote workforce diversity on gender, age, race and/or ethnicity, religious beliefs or disability. According to the report published by UNAR (Italy’s National Office Against Racial Discrimination) and ISTAT (national statistics bureau), in 2019 one company in five introduced measures to promote inclusion in the workplace. Most focused on transgender employees: 3.3% of companies have established that these workers can use the toilet facilities and changing rooms that correspond to their gender identity. However, skills are required to develop such projects and to tackle and promote diversity as well as developing greater awareness. “We think it is key to introduce compulsory training schemes in companies to overcome gender stereotyping and to create awareness around people’s rights,” underlines Isa Maggi, national coordinator of the “Stati Generali dell Donne”, a permanent network within the framework of policies for labour, the economy, women and rights.

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