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Can Women Capitalize In A Pandemic-Driven Digital Environment?

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As the pandemic is dramatically driving so many irrevocable disruptions in our lifestyle, experts believe that the future of work is also at a critical crossroads. Work “After COVID” (let’s call it AC) would require us to unlearn a deal of skills that were required for working “Before COVID”(BC) and learn some of the emerging skills.

Not surprisingly, technology-driven businesses are performing better even in the time of crises. Tech tycoons are growing their fortunes amid the Coronavirus pandemic while smart and contact-free solutions are booming. Globally, companies are opting for digital workspaces amidst lockdowns. Although globalization is at risk in the time of the Coronavirus, the accelerated digitalization and other mega-trends are radically changing work culture and lifestyles. A flexible, culturally inclusive, and relatively safe type of cyber working environment could potentially trigger a paradigm shift.

Women, in particular, could potentially benefit from the pandemic-driven digital future of work. In countries such as Pakistan, there is a growing number of educated middle-class women who want to work but face hurdles due to cultural marginalization and familial obligations. They may finally be able to work in any sector from home just by learning basic digital skills. However, timely learning, unlearning and relearning of skills may conclusively define the lag phase of this new digital era.

Valuable skills like digital literacy, creativity, enterprise and entrepreneurial skills, critical thinking, STEM and SMAC skills, people skills, complex problem solving and mental flexibility, as well as inter-disciplinary knowledge – all will prove very relevant for the digital future of work.

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How will Pakistani women fare in the “After Corona” (AC) era? Here is a brief overview of women’s participation in the digital economy.

Information technology: A greater chunk of the existing formal IT industry was already relying on freelancing and work from home concept. The future of work is now and will continue to be dominated by the IT sector. The relatively safe, flexible and rewarding nature of the IT industry holds special promise for women. The Government of Pakistan, in partnership with the private sector, is providing online and offline training to equip the masses with skills required for working in the IT sector. Initiatives like E-rozgar, Durshal and Digiskills have so far trained thousands of women and they are contributing significantly to the digital economy of Pakistan.

E-commerce: A lot of businesses are either going bankrupt or online to survive. A clear boom can be seen in the online buying and selling. This holds a special potential for women to start online businesses. Again, initiatives like Digiskills and Durshal are training masses for starting their online businesses.

Digitalized home-based work: Already, for white collar occupations, the informal and newly opted “work from home” culture is the new normal. Organizations are rationally going online and innovating in contemporary norms to sustain themselves in this time of crises. Experts believe that this will be a permanent shift, as business owners find that they have to pay less in terms of office rent, bills and services. Thus, women can capitalize on this pandemic-driven digital culture of work.

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Before Corona, work was traditionally organized around the concept of moving to the place where there are jobs. After Corona, in this new phase of digitalization, work will come to people. As the nature of work becomes more and more digital, Pakistan’s government needs to transform the educational system to endow the youth – especially women – with adequate knowledge, skills, qualities and capabilities.

On the level of the individual, too, equipping oneself with relevant skills may accelerate chances for career growth.

It is time for marginalized races, ethnicities, communities and genders to capitalize on the pandemic-driven digital era. That future is now.

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Naya Daur