Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How online learning and remote work could level the playing field for women

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Online learning and remote work are helping level the playing field for women around the world. Image: UNSPLASH/Glenn Carstens-Peters

Marni Baker Stein
Chief Content Officer , Coursera
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Education, Gender and Work

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  • In many parts of the world, women face cultural, societal or logistical challenges that make traditional education inaccessible.
  • Women, particularly mothers, also face barriers to career progression due to traditional office setups that demand rigid schedules or offer limited work-life balance.
  • Both online learning and remote work are helping level the playing fields, offering women educational and career opportunities they might not otherwise have had.

Online learning and remote work have emerged as powerful equalizers, offering women unprecedented opportunities for education, career advancement and participation in the workforce.

The digital transformation of businesses has given rise to a wide range of digital jobs that eliminate geographical constraints and dismantle traditional barriers that keep women from maximizing their full economic potential.

Here's how these trends have been playing out, and how they could open up more opportunities than ever before for women.

Growing access to world-class learning

Online learning platforms have democratized access to education, ensuring that people from all walks of life have access to high-quality learning resources. This has been especially important for women, because in many parts of the world, they face cultural, societal or logistical challenges that make traditional education inaccessible.

Online learning allows women to acquire knowledge, skills and credentials from renowned and trusted institutions, regardless of location or personal circumstances. In emerging markets, 45% of women and 60% of women caregivers say they would have had to stop or postpone their studies if online learning was not an option. This enables them to expand their horizons, pursue their passions, and gain expertise in diverse fields.


How is the World Economic Forum promoting equity in the workplace?

Many women have been seizing this opportunity. According to enrollment trends on Coursera, there has been a consistent increase in the share of women learners globally. Globally, women made up 42% of online learners in 2022, compared to 38% in 2019. The numbers are even more promising in the United States, with women representing 49% of learners on Coursera.

Online learning offers the flexibility that women need to balance their educational journey with work and caregiving responsibilities, allowing them to upskill or reskill at their own pace. And even though the share of enrollment is lower for women compared to men globally, according to Coursera research in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023, women outpace men in the time they take to develop key skills across every proficiency level.

Have you read?
  • Global Gender Gap Report 2023

Enabling career advancement with work-life balance

Remote work has emerged as a game-changer, affording women greater flexibility and control over their professional lives. Women, particularly mothers, continue to face barriers to career progression due to traditional office setups that demand rigid schedules or offer limited opportunities for work-life balance. Remote work mitigates these constraints, allowing women to excel in their careers while maintaining personal commitments. This shift to remote work has proven especially beneficial for working mothers by reducing the need for commuting and offering flexible schedules.

The newfound balance is encouraging more women to enter and remain in the workforce. Women are applying for remote positions at a higher rate than men. This trend also aligns with the preferences of over 60% of women who express a desire to work mostly remotely.

We are also seeing a productivity boost, with women reporting a 40% increase in productivity compared to a 35% increase in men, indicating that remote work enables them to thrive professionally.

Remote work options have proven instrumental in attracting and retaining underrepresented groups, including women. A McKinsey report revealed that 71% of companies acknowledge the positive impact of offering remote options in attracting and retaining more employees from diverse backgrounds.

Acquiring digital skills and transitioning to better-paying jobs

Globalization, automation and digital transformation are creating new reskilling imperatives, and the rise of AI will further accelerate the urgency, with up to 49% of workers having half or more of their tasks exposed to large language models.

The growth and adoption of industry micro-credentials have emerged as a powerful tool in empowering women by providing them with the means to acquire digital skills quickly and transition into higher-paying jobs. They also provide them with a path to re-enter the workforce after a long career break, and allow them to acquire the new skills required to address the changing nature of jobs.

Since the pandemic, leading companies and industry experts, including Meta, PwC India, Salesforce, and SAP, have launched micro-credentials for over 25 digital job roles, attracting nearly 7 million all-time enrollments on Coursera globally. Over the past year, 43% of entry-level professional certificate enrollments have come from women, up from 25% in 2019.

These micro-credentials focus on digital jobs, such as data analysis, programming, digital marketing, or user experience design, where the required skills can be learned online. Moreover, these jobs can also often be done remotely, creating opportunities to skill women workers everywhere and providing them access to in-demand roles previously out of reach. Additionally, the affordability of micro-credentials compared to traditional on-campus degrees makes them more accessible to a broader range of women across the socio-economic spectrum.

While AI has accelerated the need for large-scale reskilling, it will also be a central part of the solution. AI enables the creation of high-quality, low-cost training content, reduces language barriers using machine translation, and enhances the learning experience by making it more personalized and interactive — expanding opportunities for women in every part of the world to learn high-demand skills.

Gender gap in skill proficiency attainment, by level of proficiency and skill category, 2022
Gender gap in skill proficiency attainment, by level of proficiency and skill category, 2022

As AI is widely adopted and distributed workforces become the norm, human skills and leadership become even more critical. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, “socio-emotional” skills are among the most highly valued by employers, as companies place greater emphasis on human skills that are less susceptible to automation. Our research found that women are demonstrating much greater parity in human skills – in self-efficacy skills, such as curiosity and lifelong learning (87.6% parity), resilience, flexibility and agility (77.1%), and motivation and self-awareness (86.8%). There is also a lower disparity in enrollment in skills such as talent management, leadership and social influence.

Online learning and remote work are driving a transformative shift, creating more equal opportunities for women in a society that has long grappled with gender disparities. By enabling women to access high-quality education, achieve work-life balance, and learn job-ready skills, we are leveling the playing field and empowering women to be the economic engine of the 21st century. In the digital era, it is imperative that we build upon these advancements, nurture inclusivity, and unleash the full potential of women in the modern workforce.

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Equity, Diversity and InclusionEducation and Skills
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