According to Coursera’s latest Women and Skills Report, women are increasingly enrolling in online learning courses and pursuing STEM certifications during the pandemic.
Women now account for 52% of newly registered users on the e-learning platform in 2021, compared to 47% in 2019. In terms of overall course enrollments, women have almost achieved par at 49%, compared to a share of only 42%. of all enrollments in 2019.
The narrowing gender gap in online learning comes at a time when women have been disproportionately prevented from working during the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the economic recovery in many labor market sectors, millions of women remain unemployed or underemployed as they have been over-represented in personal service jobs over the past 18 months and have been disrupted by Covid-19, as well as ongoing childcare challenges. Unemployment numbers exclude that too 1.6 million women who have had to retire altogether since February 2020.
But the growing proportion of women upskilling and reskilling through online learning could be an encouraging sign for the future of women in the workforce, says Betty Vandenbosch, Coursera’s chief content officer.
Online learning could help close employment and close the wage gap
Between the burden of home care and being over-represented in personal services or care work, “women are coming to online learning because it’s their only viable option,” Vandenbosch tells CNBC Make It.
She’s “thrilled” to see that despite increased work, job hunting, and caring responsibilities, more women are learning through Coursera over the past two years, especially when it comes to increasing STEM course participation and certification.
Female enrollments in entry-level professional certificates reached 43% in 2021, up from 27% in 2019.
“Women see the writing on the wall that the helping professions that have been so devastated by Covid, like retail or healthcare or childcare, have been a disaster,” Vandenbosch said. “But the place where things are strong is in digital.”
Coursera works with 14 companies, including Google, IBM, Salesforce, and Facebook, to develop courses and prepare users without a college degree or technology experience for a range of in-demand digital jobs.
For example, in 2020, Google announced three new online certificate programs in data analysis, project management, and user experience design through Coursera. The three- to six-month courses are considered the equivalent of a four-year college degree for relevant entry-level positions in the company.
Certificate programs that accelerate career transition could help attract more women into high-growth, high-paying tech jobs.
“Many don’t just want to get a little better at what they do today,” says Vandenbosch of women learning online. “They want to switch to automation-protected professions. They want a job with a future.”
Learning design must take women into account
To encourage more women to access online learning and certification, e-learning platforms need to be designed with women’s needs in mind, says Vandenbosch. On Coursera, this means ensuring all course presentations are 10 minutes or less and can be conducted on a mobile device to accommodate women’s disproportionate time constraints.
The platform has also increased the use of embedded assessments, like short quizzes, so learners can know during a course if they’re on the right track.
Another important factor is ensuring that women teachers and trainers are well represented across the platform, especially in STEM-focused classes, as Coursera’s internal research shows that women are more likely to enroll in classes taught by women.
“We are very careful with our partners to ensure that the people teaching their courses are diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity and economic position,” says Vandenbosch, particularly in relation to its industry certifications.
Currently, approximately 39% of courses on Coursera are taught by female instructors.
Employers can do more to encourage women’s continued learning and career growth
In 2021, women accounted for 57% of Coursera users accessing the platform through a government agency such as a workforce re-entry program, and 54% of users with access through their university.
But among users who access Coursera from their employer as a workplace perk, women made up just 32% of online learners.
To continue to close the employment and wage gaps, Vandenbosch says companies need to be more proactive in encouraging women to upskill and reskill as part of their career development within the company.
When companies offer continuous online learning, they can make it clear that graduates have a path to a promotion or new job upon graduation.
employer should also make continuous learning a business priority without burdening employees, especially women, who are more likely to be assigned additional unpaid and unrecognized work. This could mean integrating coursework into an individual’s work assignments and performance goals, and working with them to allocate appropriate time and resources for it.
“If you’re doing learning that supports your business, your business should give you time to learn,” says Vandenbosch. “Companies need to encourage women to do this work, and they need women who are role models, who can say, ‘I did it, and so can you.'”
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