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The skills women will need to transition in the 4IR workplace

BY: SGI|12 September 2019
BLOG| Evolving world of work

From unhelpful stereotypes and unconscious bias to unequal pay structures and a lack of role models, gender equality in the workplace has long been a hot topic, with women representing just 39% of the global workforce, says Harvard Business Review. And this number may increase exponentially if women are unable to transition successfully into the workplace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).


As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) infiltrate various industries, employees are likely to be displaced, says research by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), with women, especially, suffering a considerable blow: “Globally, 40 million to 160 million women may need to transition between occupations by 2030 … but women face pervasive barriers”.


But there is hope. And lots of opportunity.


The report, titled The future of women at work: Transitions in the age of automation, says that if women are able to successfully make these transitions in the workplace, more productive, better-paid work will be waiting for them. Specifically, learning is an integral aspect to becoming better skilled, mobile and tech-savvy for the 4IR workplace.



As Amazon and other companies have shown, organisations are upskilling their current employees to prepare them for technological changes in the workplace, which could prove useful to ensuring that gender disparity does not increase. The MGI report suggests companies and governments can support female workers across industries by:

  • Investing in training programs and platforms that help women develop necessary skills;
  • Enabling women to balance paid and unpaid work, and developing infrastructure networks to enable their working mobility; and
  • Raising women’s access to technology, their skills to use it, and their share of tech jobs and leadership roles.



While automation and AI are rendering many physical and manual skills futile, the need for technological know-how is becoming more prevalent. According to the Mail & Guardian, 4IR demands transferable skills and capabilities that will encourage resource-intensive work. These capabilities are centred on the four Cs:

  • Critical thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity

Additionally, says the MGI report, the demand for social and emotional skills will also speed up. It’s impossible for a robot to be empathetic; hence the need for the very human attribute of high EI (emotional intelligence). Online short courses could prove useful in helping women in the workforce develop their technical, emotional and knowledge-management skillset.



As more of the working world becomes automated, approximately 400 million jobs could potentially be lost to automation by 2030, reports MGI. At the same time, the report points to an increase in net jobs during the same period – more than 150 million, in fact. In addition, up to nine% of employed people may end up in new occupations, with women workers facing significant challenges such as partial automation in their work as well as currently occupying jobs that are not highly paid.


Yet, if upskilled sufficiently, women will be able to transition between both occupations and skill levels, allowing them to work more flexibly and use their social and emotional skills that are often relegated to lower-pay or unpaid work. Integrating these skills with the technological expertise required for 4IR can be learnt through digital learning programmes that allow women workers to learn in their own time and at their own pace. Importantly, there needs to be a focus on practical and theoretical capabilities, so people are empowered to hit-the-ground running with instantly applicable skills.


Stellenbosch Graduate Institute (SGI) offers online short courses designed to help you develop the necessary skills for the 4IR workplace. For more information and a full list of our courses, click here.


This article appeared in the African Independent's World Economic Forum edition. Click here to read the article.


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