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Equality and economic recovery can - and should - go hand in hand



Google's Asia Pacific President, Scott Beaumont, shares his views on the DigiPivot reskilling program for Indian women

Nobody really taught me digital skills. I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to build them up day by day, over the course of a career working mostly in technology. (A career long enough to have engaged with digital from its very beginning!). It is easy to take this for granted.

Catching up on a year’s worth of skills can be daunting. For people who’ve left the workforce for longer, it can be overwhelming. Even for those who haven’t spent time away, the daily pressures of work mean it’s easy to miss out on training opportunities that could help you progress or evolve your career into a new area. Inevitably, these challenges disproportionately affect women rather than men — holding their careers back and denying economies a massive pool of potential leadership talent ($4.5 trillion-worth in Asia Pacific, according to McKinsey).

All these issues hit home a few weeks ago when I took part in a panel at a virtual event for DigiPivot, a reskilling program created to help more Indian women return to work — or move into different roles —  by developing their leadership and digital marketing skills.


A model for change

The 40 participants in the DigiPivot program all have the potential to be senior business leaders. There are accomplished professionals like Manvi Bajpai and Ayushi Atray, looking to move their career to the next level. Almost half the cohort was women like Tanya Mehan, wanting to bring their skills and drive back to the workforce after time away.

They’d been nervous - after time away from the workplace - that they wouldn’t be able to grasp the digital tools the program teaches, but realised it was easy with the right training—and that knowledge was empowering for them. Doing the training with others like them also helped them see opportunities in the COVID-affected economy that they hadn’t noticed before.

At the same time, they saw the flexibility of digital tools as a way of rebalancing the workload at home while all of us are prevented from going into the office. (How to make this sustainable when offices return is another important conversation that employers need to have.)

The program’s impact — the sense of confidence it instilled —made me think about the role similar programs could play across Asia-Pacific.


Lessons for the region

There's good reason DigiPivot was launched in India. About 45% of Indian women under the age of 30 quit work before they turn 30, and one-fifth don’t come back at all. In total, 77% of Indian women drop out of the workforce at least once during their career.  But every country in Asia Pacific faces a version of the same issue. When women can't return to or progress in the workforce, we lose out on a powerful driver of economic growth.  That was a problem before COVID-19. It’s a bigger problem now as we confront the most complex economic environment we’ve ever experienced.

I wrote recently in Nikkei Asian Review that where there are specific barriers to inclusion in the digital economy, we should develop targeted solutions. DigiPivot is a perfect example, and offers lessons that could be applied anywhere.

It has a clear focus— workplace gender equality, especially after a career break. It’s limited to manageable cohorts, so every participant gets the most from the program. It makes Indian Google leaders like Madhuri Duggirala, Pooja Banerjee, Roma Datta Chobey, Bhaskar Ramesh, Rahul Jindal and several others available to the community. It’s delivered by a coalition, with each partner bringing different expertise — in this case Google, Avtar (a DEI research firm focused on bringing women back to the workforce) and the Indian School of Business.

Finally, DigiPivot doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of a bigger commitment Google India and its partners have made to advancing equality — from grass-roots programs like Internet Saathi, to other programs that support professional women, like I Am Remarkable. And it fits into a longer term plan. From here, the DigiPivot team’s plan is to take the lessons from the first cohort and begin scaling the program to reach more women across the country, and potentially beyond.  Overlapping challenges and opportunities.

The DigiPivot discussion has stayed with me because it spoke to so many of the overlapping challenges and opportunities we face right now. The need to make progress on entrenched inequities, share economic opportunity more fairly, and draw on diverse talent and ideas in rebuilding from COVID-19.

Ultimately, we can’t afford to choose between economic recovery and tackling deeper problems like gender equality. We can and should do both at the same time. I hope we can build on the early success of DigiPivot and launch more initiatives like it across the region.