Women and Future of Work: Opportunities in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By Flora Mutahi

The onset of new technological inventions is always underpinned by ambivalence at best, and at worst, fear and alarm. This is apparent in the ongoing global discourse on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is constantly punctuated by apprehension of job losses across industries leading to a further widening of the poverty gap.

Much as these are real and valid concerns, I would like to propose, that we view the conversations around the coming convergence and digital transformations, as a site to redefine work and skills especially within the context of industry. Herein lies massive opportunities for the workforce and a chance to position ourselves ahead of the curve, as a country, in readiness for the disruption. The extent to which the fourth industrial revolution will recalibrate our imagination of work, will require a major transformation in all things related to management, production, and governance in the work place.

A survey by LinkedIn indicated that a good number of the most promising future jobs will rely heavily on STEM skills. Yet the current scenario depicts that, overall, STEM graduates are still few and far between, and furthermore, women continue to be greatly disadvantaged in this field. But what if in our redefinition of work, we deliberately embark on diversity and inclusivity – and not just for the sake of representation – but towards the realization and achievement of our economic sustainability, come the envisaged disruption?

Increased unemployment in the country is not simply driven by a lack of demand, but is exacerbated by a lack of competent skills that enable us to adopt to the transformations that are fast changing our work places. A 2017 Executive Briefing on The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa indicates that Kenya only captures 58% of its full human capital potential compared to countries such as Mauritius at 67%, Ghana at 64% and South Africa 63%, adding that 30% of employers in Kenya are citing inadequately skilled workforce as a major constraint to business expansion. With the women in Kenya, representing half the population at 50.1%, we have an unprecedented opportunity to overturn the gender divide that has resulted in the above scenario and situate ourselves to well harness the emergence of new world trends.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), these drivers of change in the industrial revolution will impact some of the industries with the ‘largest traditional gender gap’ such as Manufacturing and production. WEF states that, Women, due to their under-representation in this sector will only lose 0.37% jobs, but on the other hand, stand to gain approximately over 100,000 jobs in Architecture, Engineering, Computer and Mathematical functions – which in my opinion is a very modest estimate.

At this point it becomes critical to develop policies that will for instance, look at ways in which STEM education in the country can be more diverse and less traditional. Policy makers need to map out why, even when studies insist that technology is being regularly introduced to the women and youth demographics, there still remains a huge disconnect when it comes to them either scaling up their businesses or sharpening their employability. Could it be that perhaps what we are teaching is fast being out paced by rising technological innovations, which in the end has us replicating the existing gender gaps in industry?

Perhaps we also need to revisit the current strategies being employed to ensure that Women’s businesses are competitive enough to be integrated into regional and global value chains. Making businesses competitive means that aspects of technological innovation and digital transformation are evident in the day-to-day business operations and enhance quality delivery for a global market. Hence, ensuring that more Women are well versed in stem subjects guarantees the above as well as, cements our position as a regional leader for investments for our own economic sustainability.

The Global Human Capital Report 2017 places Kenya at an overall position of 78 out of 130 countries surveyed on human capital and at 59.48% compared to the global average of 62%. It further states that Kenya is at position 101 on development of future skills and position 74 in the use of specialized skills at work.

In my opinion, the fourth industrial revolution is a great opportunity for Kenya to re-position itself, by reinventing the workplace and harnessing the potential of women, as well as centering inclusivity as part of this innovation.

The writer is the Chairlady of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the Vice Chairperson for the COMESA Business Council. She can be reached on info@kam.co.ke.

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