By Sopani Muzumara
Happy Women’s Day!
Tremendous progress has been made to reduce gender disparity, however, there is still a long way to go to achieve true gender equality. The World Bank in 2022 indicated that the global labour force participation rate for women is just over 50% compared to 80% for men, with some regions facing a wider gap. In the United States of America (USA), female employment as a percentage of total employment stood at 46.6%.
Whereas employment percentage may seem nearly equal, the wage gap indicates that women are nowhere equal to their male counterparts. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in September 2022 stated that globally, for every dollar a man gets paid, a woman, on average gets 80 cents. In Zambia, women represent only 39.8% of the total labour force according to the 2020 Labour Force Survey and get 88 ngwee for every K1 a man gets.
In recent years, there has been a growing focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, particularly in industries where women have historically been underrepresented. The manufacturing sector, for example, was previously seen as a completely male-dominated industry, with jobs in the sector being monotonous assembly-line tasks, often done in a dangerous environment.
However, such preconceptions bear little resemblance to modern-day, innovative and technologically advanced manufacturing operations.
The Zambia Association of Manufactures (ZAM), has particularly been at the helm of raising awareness on gender equality in manufacturing, identifying and celebrating women who are breaking biases in the industry and training more women with skills to start up and scale a business.
Fortunately, innovation and technology are providing new opportunities for women in industry to succeed. One of the most significant advantages of technology is that it provides women with greater flexibility in the workplace. Remote work and online collaboration tools allow women to work from anywhere and collaborate with colleagues from around the world. This is particularly important for women who may have caregiving responsibilities. By leveraging technology, women can overcome various barriers and access new opportunities in industry.
In a famous 2008 work-life balance interview of then Chief Executive Officer of Pepsi Co, Indra Nooyi advises women to use the resources at their disposal to succeed both in the workplace and at home, of which one of the resources can and should include technology.
Technology also provides women with access to a wealth of information and resources, enabling them to learn new skills and stay up to date on industry trends. Online learning platforms offer thousands of courses in a variety of fields, allowing women to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule. Innovation and technology can further be used to create more opportunities for women in industry by using cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to boost their productivity.
For instance,, new technologies such as the famous AI chatbot, Chat GPT are changing the way companies do business. Since these are open source tools, women just like men should jump on the band wagon to use these tools for their benefit. A 2021 International Financial Corporation (IFC) report on Women and E-commerce in Asia showed that some women in the Philippines recorded an 85% increase in revenue by using e-commerce to trade.
However, it’s important to note that technology alone is not enough to promote gender equality in industry. This requires a concerted effort to address bias and discrimination and provide equal opportunities for all. The conversation on women’s empowerment should therefore not just be a conversation about increasing diversity in a team or sector. Steps should be taken by all stakeholders to ensure that there is real transformative integration.
Such steps may include mentorship, training, and networking opportunities to help women succeed. In this regard, ZAM will be hosting its 3rd Women in Industry Tour and Training from 30th to 31st March 2023. The tour seeks to provide a practical example of how women-led businesses can integrate innovation and technology in their manufacturing ventures whilst the training will equip women with the necessary foundational skills needed for business growth.
Bringing women into the technology space results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. Lack of inclusion of women in technology, by contrast, comes with massive costs of about $1 trillion from the GDP of low and middle-income countries, as highlighted in the 2022 UN Women’s Gender Snapshot report. Women-owned and women-led businesses should therefore embrace innovation and technology at every stage of their business. Government should also ensure that opportunities presented by the digital revolution do not perpetuate existing patterns of gender inequality by establishing and enforcing policies that ensure cybersecurity and safety.