Bridging the Supply Chain Gender Gap through Digital Training

May 5, 2022
  • Laura Macias portrait

    Laura Macias

    Manager, RISE, BSR

  • Sarah Cornelles portrait

    Sarah Cornelles

    Associate, Nature, BSR

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the lives of approximately 190 million women workers in global supply chains. Employees needed to access critical information on health, financial resilience, and tools for building harmonious relationships and handling stress. Since on-site training was no longer an option, HERproject kickstarted HERessentials, a tablet-based learning app for workers and managers, in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Latin America.

Following the launch of HERessentials, we held in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and a webinar with our partners, Sarah Krasley, CEO of Shimmy, and Marc Beckmann, Project Director at GIZ, to identify practical recommendations on setting up digital training in global supply chains.

HERessentials started as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. However, the program shows us the potential for greater scale as a long-term project to build digital capabilities for all workers. Drawing on our experience, here are three key recommendations for businesses considering how to set up digital training in supply chains:

Combine Digital and In-Person Touchpoints

There are many benefits to digital training, especially as the past two years has demonstrated. Digital training enables program ownership, facilitates data collection, and contributes to empowering workers as they can learn autonomously.

However, standalone digital tools are not enough to guarantee a long-lasting impact and a positive learning experience. Gender inequalities in the training room can deepen if digital tools are not accompanied by in-person meetings. In fact, women are in a more disadvantageous position as they tend to have lower levels of digital literacy levels compared to their male counterparts. Sarah Krasley, CEO of Shimmy, observed that in countries where there is low digital literacy:

The human factor of digital training is critical. Trainers need to be in the room to set the tone and help workers, especially women, to approach technology.

A blended training approach, with the best of both worlds, in-person facilitation, and digital tools contribute to positive impact and program scalability.

Test, Repeat, and Acknowledge Setbacks

Building digital training requires constant testing and adaptation. As such, it is important to consider flexibility and risk-taking and always acknowledge setbacks. Creating the HERessential app took several iterations—we faced issues related to technical bugs and other elements that didn’t work as planned, which required constant change and troubleshooting. As such, open conversations to set expectations from the start should be accompanied by flexible timelines and realistic pilots.

We thought that big groups and numerous pilots would be manageable because the digital training requires fewer in-person touchpoints. However, pilots with smaller groups worked better in the end.

- HERessentials team

Following multiple iterations, we put in place a process to constantly capture feedback from end-users—in this case, farm and factory workers—to create a relevant digital product. It is important to set key indicators from the start to make sure the right data is collected. There is a high risk of comprehension difficulties when collecting large amounts of data if there isn’t a monitoring and evaluation structure in place.

Design with an Equity Lens

Marc Beckmann, Project Director at GIZ, emphasizes the need to include a bottom-up approach to make sure those in disadvantageous positions can benefit equally from increased digitalization.

In this case, illiterate workers and women generally felt less comfortable using the tablets with others in the same room. Facilitators played a relevant role in helping build confidence. To level the playing field, we incorporated animations and voice-overs to help navigate the app without the need to read or write. Likewise, considering the local needs of women was critical; in most regions, there was a gender gap in the use of technologies. Stakeholders saw improvement in the digital literacy of workers after participating in HERessentials. For example, women who at the beginning felt unsure about using the tablets had developed new tech skills and built their confidence midway through the program.

A key advantage of digital tool applications is that they enable data collection, but at the same time, this might represent a new risk for the most vulnerable workers. A protocol on who and how this data is accessed needs to be in place to guarantee workers' data protection and fair treatment.

As we scale up, the app-based training will expand to other geographies and industries, incorporating all lessons learned and reaching more vulnerable workers across global supply chains. The garment industry in Vietnam and Guatemala will be the next markets for HERessentials. If you are interested in learning more, please contact the HERproject team.

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