Industry 4.0: Increasing women’s participation in the workforce

Industry 4.0: Increasing women’s participation in the workforce

Zeynep Bodur Okyay
Gender inequality is still one of the most persistent, widespread, and pervasive forms of inequality across the globe.Women’s participation in the workforce is an alarming area, where numbers indicate high unemployment and overrepresentation of women in mostly low-paying, low-ranking, and under-resourced jobs. Turkey’s performance on a global scale presents a gloomy picture. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2015, Turkey ranks 130th among 145 countries and is the lowest-performing country from the region on the Economic Participation and Opportunity sub index. Current inequalities will not disappear, but rather risk being exacerbated in the future if we do not act smart starting now.
We have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is predicted that the nature of work will change, with many routine manufacturing and service jobs to disappear. Experts in the field even warn that we will have to prepare to coexist and collaborate with machines in the decade ahead. As an outcome of these developments, the gender gap might increase as in some industries jobs traditionally held by women might become obsolete, and new jobs requiring different skillsets might offer new opportunities.

To tackle this issue, incentive mechanisms should be redesigned. At Kale Group, we believe in new technologies, digitalization, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, etc. But we believe more in people. For us, the key asset is people and providing them with the right tools so that they can reach their full potential. In our view, technology is an enabler and an accelerator. It should be used intelligently to enhance the lives of people. It is a fact that with advances in technology there has been an incremental increase in productivity. Therefore, it is imperative that people or the workforce be equipped with the skills of the 21st century to be fully prepared for the profound changes to come. And it is even more critical that women, who make up half of the population, are not left behind. Only by mobilizing the entire population and integrating women into the workforce, can creativity, innovation, and productivity flourish. 

The coming drastic changes could offer us a golden opportunity to bridge the gender gap. We should prepare to take advantage of this new window of opportunity. For various reasons, internal as well as external, Turkey has been a latecomer to the prior industrial revolutions. Therefore, we must be even more flexible and agile in order to ensure that we do not miss the Fourth Industrial Revolution but jump on the bandwagon at just the right time. To achieve this, social consensus and cooperation between concerned parties is essential. The entire country should act in unison with the government, private sector, academia, and civil society to achieve the common objective of increasing national, social, and economic welfare to embrace the industrial revolution. One thing is certain: This cannot be achieved by excluding women from the workforce.  

Starting today, we must increase collective efforts to raise awareness and encourage more girls to enroll in STEM studies in Turkey. Technology is important but social support mechanisms are just as vital. Establishing a mentor-mentee solidarity mechanism is effective since it acts as a bilateral learning process for both the mentor and the mentee. Lifelong learning should also be promoted. People at all levels will need to continue learning and acquiring new skills throughout their lives. Also, it should not be forgotten that retaining skilled people is as important as recruiting them. Therefore, it is essential that the current mismatch between technology and the Turkish education system is addressed urgently and as effectively as possible through changes in curriculum, and perhaps more importantly by changing attitudes.

It is impossible to design and achieve a success story for Turkey by keeping 21 million women at home, excluded from the workforce in a population of 78 million. A country with a female workforce participation of 31 percent, where women account for only eight percent of entrepreneurs, is destined to remain a mediocre country at best, which keeps us from the league of nations we aspire to be part of and the new world order that is being shaped right now.

* Zeynep Bodur Okyay is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Kale Group, Turkey. This is an abridged version of the original published in Turkish Policy Quarterly’s (TPQ) Summer 2016 issue.