The COVID-19 economic crisis is seeing women lose work at a disproportionate rate. But, The Dream Collective founder Sarah Liu says now is the time for displaced women to launch new careers in tech, and she’s giving them the tools to do it.
In partnership with Aussie unicorn Canva, along with Amazon Web Services, Google, Datacom and Inc, Liu has launched ShePivots, a free upskilling platform designed to help women make “an unexpected career transition” into tech.
Canva and the other tech giants are on board as ‘career partners’, and will open available jobs to applications from participants who have gone through the program.
The platform launched on Thursday last week, and by 10.30am on Friday morning, more than 350 women had signed up.
And that’s without any hard promotion.
“That’s been really exciting,” the founder says.
“It speaks to the fact that this is something that is especially timely for people, and is actually of practical relevance.”
As the COVID-19 health crisis quickly became a global economic crisis too, Liu noticed that women were particularly at risk of job losses.
According to ABS data, about 6% of men are unemployed, compared to about 8% of women.
“While the percentage might not seem huge given the volume, it’s actually a significant gap,” Liu says.
Women are more likely to be in part-time, contract and temporary roles, she notes. And they’re often the first to go.
They also over-index in the hospitality, retail and service sectors, which are also very high risk.
“Yes, women are losing a few more jobs than men. But, holistically, it’s actually going to create a really large gap for the pipeline and for the future as well,” Liu says.
“It’s a very significant issue because it’s not isolated.”
At the same time, she suggests this is a good time for women to consider a transition into tech — particularly for those who might not have considered it before.
Typically, women are less likely to apply for tech roles, perhaps perceiving the space as full of “guys in hoodies on skateboards”, Liu says.
“We’re using this opportunity to build that ecosystem for women in tech.”
A timeless skillset
The platform doesn’t focus on coding or other specialist ‘techy’ skills. Rather, it acknowledges that not all roles in tech companies require tech experience.
Someone who has worked in marketing management in the hospitality sector, for example, could easily move to marketing management in tech, Liu says.
“We really want to challenge people and encourage women to reconsider what they can achieve.”
Many tech companies are looking for resilience, the ability to pivot, and social skills, as well as practical ability for the job in hand.
ShePivots first focuses on building that resilience and creating a career pivot plan, and then encourages participants to identify their strength and take control of their own professional narrative.
“Particularly, we know that that’s not a strength for women,” Liu explains.
“We haven’t grown up and been socialised in that way — being proud and owning our successes,” she adds.
“You might not have had experience in the industry you’re applying into, but how do you craft out your strengths and identify those, and tell the story?
“That’s a really timeless skillset … it’s particularly important right now.”
The program also incorporates networking skills, especially considering how to build relationships and make connections digitally.
And, while all these skills are particularly pertinent in the current environment, Liu says she sees the program continuing, even after this economic downturn has passed.
“In the post-COVID context, how do you network digitally? How do you deal with relationships? How do you create credibility?”
The issues ShePivots is addressing existed before the pandemic, and will likely exist afterwards as well. They’re just a little exacerbated by the environment, Liu says, and that’s what the platform sets out to address.
“It’s something people are particularly needing right at this point in time,” she says.
A flexible future?
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a shift in the way many people work, including in tech companies and startups. It’s also fast-tracked all manner of digital and social trends, including, of course, accelerating the shift towards remote and flexible working.
With her advisory hat on, Liu notes that offering flexibility is a “huge component” of fostering an inclusive workplace.
“Unless you offer a flexible working environment, you’re simply not going to access the diverse talent that’s out there,” she says.
It stands to reason that the acceleration of the flexible working trend could mean workplaces are more accommodating to women, particularly those with children.
However, Liu says it may not be quite that simple.
“The reality is that more employees would want to work from home, but not necessarily more employers will shift,” she says.
People are talking about remote work a lot, she notes. And, while the likes of Twitter and Facebook in the US have said they’re making a long-term shift, in the Australian context, there’s less enthusiasm.
“The language leaders are using is all about going back to normal and transitioning the workforce back to the office,” she says.
Some people who were sceptical about remote work are experiencing a shift in mindset, she notes. And, some businesses may move to remote working as a pragmatic tool, simply to save money on office rents.
“But, in terms of actual movement in the workplace, I’m not sure we’re going to necessarily see tectonic shifts straight away.”
At the same time, she stresses that moving to remote work as the standard doesn’t automatically tick the flexible-work box.
The ideal is having an office to go to when it works for the employees, allowing them to work from where they feel most productive, or allowing them a space to collaborate when they need to.
It’s about offering options, Liu explains.
“True flexibility is … not 100% in the office or 100% working from home. True flexibility is having a choice.”