How traditional learning disproportionately impacts women

Remote working woman at home
(Image credit: / ImYanis)

As we progress further into 2023, the wave of tech layoffs shows no signs of slowing. As of mid-January, an average 1,600 tech workers have been laid off every day in the new year and a string of tech giants have announced job cuts. Amazon is set to cull 18,000 jobs - the biggest round of layoffs in its history - and Salesforce has announced plans to reduce its workforce by 10%. These add to the tally of over 150,000 tech job losses in 2022.

But tech’s layoffs aren’t affecting everyone equally. Twitter was recently served with a lawsuit amid claims their layoffs targeted women, with 57% of female employees losing their jobs compared to 47% of male employees. Mass layoffs in tech pose a great risk to equality and diversity in 2023, with the most recent waves of layoffs at Amazon and Microsoft decimating their HR workforce. With the de-prioritization of D&I efforts from business leaders as they grapple with staying afloat amid the burgeoning recession, those of marginalized genders and from underrepresented groups are more likely to be impacted by these job cuts.

Entrenched bias

Lack of progression happens for a reason. Entrenched bias affects promotion decisions but it also creates structures that shut certain groups out and further obstruct their advancement. Subsequently, employees from underrepresented groups are often hired in less-senior roles, and are more likely to be seen as expendable.

Take, for example, the way tech training is delivered. Opportunities for learning and development will traditionally take place outside of work, using offline material or a set of video lectures. Such training is crucial for career and pay progression, and yet, its current format is exclusionary.

Firstly, demanding development takes place in employees’ own time disproportionately impacts women, who are still taking on the bulk of caregiving responsibilities. Nearly half of working-age women are providing an average of 45 hours of unpaid care every week, while 25% of men provide 17 hours, and UK women provide 23.2 billion hours of unpaid childcare, compared to 9.7 billion provided by men. Women face the disproportionate burden of caregiving, the responsibility of which makes them time-poor before even entering the workplace. Requiring learning to take place outside of office hours limits their ability to progress and punishes them further as a result of ingrained sexist structures - expecting them to be ‘kinkeepers’, both at home and in the workplace.

Hayley McCarthy

Hayley McCarthy is Co-founder of Skiller Whale, an online live team coaching platform.

Transformative learning

If the tech sector is serious about equality, it can’t afford to keep such practices in place. The structures that limit women’s ability to rise through the workplace mean that for every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted and only 82 women of color, according to McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace study. This stifling of individual success is halting widespread change: transformation is only truly achieved when marginalized groups are able to access decision-making positions of power. However, it’s not only women who are negatively affected by traditional learning. Delivering training in a set, unengaging format prohibits those with different learning styles and requirements from fully benefiting from the material. Ignoring the requirements of neurodiverse employees, for example, and continuing to pursue traditional learning that favors some neurotypical employees, simply puts up barriers to their progression.

Everyone loses when tech companies cling to traditional learning. It’s not just those excluded who are missing out but businesses too. By blocking the career advancement of certain groups, tech firms are stopping themselves from fully benefiting from their talents. And by maintaining the homogeneity of upper management, they’re missing crucial perspectives and experience.

Defaulting to traditional learning is more than a method - it’s a message. Forget the website mission statement: refusing to move beyond traditional learning indicates to women, and other marginalized and underrepresented groups, that there’s no commitment to their professional development. It tells them their career is valued less. Is this the message you want to send?

Companies who want to end this form of discrimination must move away from traditional learning and embrace transformative learning. Instead of expecting development to occur in personal time, all learning and development opportunities should be structured to take place in work hours so no one is forced to miss out. And press pause on the video lectures - teaching needs to be hands-on, personalized and deeply engaging so everyone can easily absorb information and the style suits employees’ individual skill sets.

This transformative type of learning benefits both tech firms and employees. Beyond working to tackle discrimination, it’s proven to boost productivity, engagement and job satisfaction, as well as help promote a healthy work-life balance. It’s addressing these areas that will make team members stick around. Though an excess of employees is currently the tech sector’s problem, no team wants to lose top talent or fail to woo future stars because their work environment isn’t supportive or fulfilling.

Traditional learning and the push for equality are unable to coexist. If the tech sector wants to become a fairer industry - amid layoffs and beyond - it must examine its structures and their negative impact on certain groups. Rethinking the way development is delivered will be crucial in the effort to overturn barriers and create an environment of equality.

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Hayley McCarthy is Co-founder of Skiller Whale, an online live team coaching platform.