Coursera Women and Skills Report indicates a narrowing gender gap in online learning

Coursera Women and Skills Report indicates a narrowing gender gap in online learning

By Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO

Today I am excited to introduce Coursera’s first-ever Women and Skills Report, which examines the pandemic’s impact on skills trends among women and how online learning is helping them prepare for the future.

The dual impact of the pandemic and automation have disproportionately impacted women — largely due to school closures and the growing burden of unpaid childcare. It has exacerbated income inequality and worsened social inequities worldwide, chief among them: women’s labor force participation. According to the International Labor Organization, the number of employed women in 2021 is projected to be 13 million fewer than in 2019, while the number of employed men is projected to be about the same. And even after some recovery in recent months, only 43.2% of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 68.6% of working-age men. 

Despite the exodus of women from the labor market during the pandemic, a few promising trends are emerging. The data from the recently published Coursera Global Skills Report 2021 found that women are pursuing online education, including in STEM courses, at a higher rate than pre-pandemic. The share of overall course enrollments from women on Coursera globally increased from 38% in 2018-2019 to 45% in 2020. For STEM courses, which teach many high-demand digital skills, enrollments among women grew from 31% in 2018-2019 to 38% in 2020. 

These insights inspired us to dig deeper into global and regional trends to understand how the pandemic has shifted the gender balance and potentially created more opportunities for women to acquire skills online that can accelerate their return to work and promote economic mobility. 

The Women and Skills Report shows that the increased participation rates among women observed in 2020 have sustained in 2021. Among the key global findings: 

  • 50% of new learners are women in 2021 compared to 45% in 2019 
  • 48% of women are using mobile learning in 2021 
  • 45% of overall enrollments are from women in 2021 compared to 38% in 2019 
  • Women’s enrollment growth is a worldwide trend. However, emerging countries have seen the most dramatic year-over-year increases. For example, enrollments from women in the Philippines grew by 774%, Lebanon by 729%, and Uruguay by 565%
  • 37% of STEM enrollments are from women in 2021 compared to 31% in 2019 
  • 37% of entry-level Professional Certificate enrollments are from women in 2021 compared to 25% in 2019 
  • Top skills among women show a balanced investment in human and digital skills, from communication (14.4M enrollments) to machine learning (7.4M enrollments)

While education is not a panacea, the Women and Skills Report 2021 indicates that the gender gap in online learning narrowed during the pandemic even as the gender employment gap widened. As the world faces new skills imperatives, this research offers a glimpse of what an inclusive future could look like in the digital economy. I hope the data and insights offered in this report act as a catalyst for new ideas that institutions can embrace to achieve greater gender parity and build a more just world. 

To download the Women and Skills Report 2021 and explore the global and regional findings, visit our website.