Future Friday: Will automation adversely affect women in the workplace?

Is technology causing a gender divide in the world?
Is technology causing a gender divide in the world?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) released a report on January 19, 2016 that is rather gloomy as it relates to the global trends surrounding women in the workplace. Their report indicates that there will be job losses due to what they call “disruptive technologies” that will not be offset by job creation in new technology areas.

The effect of automation

I have written numerous times of the effect of automation on jobs. If a job is routine, requires repetitive actions and minor decision-making then the job is likely to be replaced by automation. We have already seen this in many manufacturing jobs. The WEF report says that:

“…the burden of job losses that will result from automation and disintermediation as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will impact women and men relatively equally, with 52% of the 5.1 million net job losses expected globally between now and 2020 affecting men, compared with 48% affecting women. However, the fact that women make up a smaller share of the workforce means that today’s economic gender gap may widen even further than the current 40%.”

The impact in the US may not be as great as the rest of the world since there are more women in the workforce in the US than there are men. However, in the US 36% of the female workforce in 2014 were employed in educational and health services, whereas only 10.5% of men were. As these positions become more automated that automation will have a bigger effect on women.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The WEF report refers to the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” that will have a major impact on women in the workplace on a worldwide basis. Fortune writer Claire Zillman said this revolution was the result of “disruptive technologies” such as “artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, and ‘smart’ home, factory, and farm systems.” According to the report there will be 7.1 million jobs lost with only 2 million new jobs created. As mentioned above these losses will affect both men and women equally, but the 2 million jobs created will go mostly to men because they are in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematical) professions. The report expressed the disparity as “women losing five jobs for every job gained compared with men losing three jobs for every job gained…. women are relatively under-represented when it comes to jobs that are expected to have the most growth in the next five years.”

 Problem of Education?

While job loss due to technology is going to equally affect men and women it is the job gain that will have a differential impact. Women in job categories that will suffer big losses need to be retrained in areas that are identified as being the big gainers, such as Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering job families. Girls need to be encouraged to study sciences and math to a much greater extent in school programs. In fact all students should be encouraged to do that.
Without an increased emphasis on STEM subjects by educators, parents and politicians there will be an increasing gender divide in the working world. Perhaps less so in the US, but very definitely on the world stage. It is up to us to fix the problem that this will cause companies, economies and countries in the future.
Photo credit: atibodyphoto (altered by MDH)

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