The adoption of automation technologies could force hundreds of millions of workers worldwide to change occupations by 2030, with women facing a gauntlet of new and pervasive barriers that could worsen workplace gender inequality, warns a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute.
The report, The Future of Women at Work: Transitions in the Age of Automation, asserts that governments, companies, and individuals will need to develop and implement concerted measures and creative new solutions to help women keep pace in the workplace. Success in this area could help women along the path to higher-level, better-paying jobs. Failure could result in the wage gap between men and women widening and women falling further behind in overall gender parity at work.
McKinsey based its conclusions on research into six mature economies (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US) and four emerging economies (China, India, Mexico, and South Africa), which together represent about half the world’s population and about 60% of global GDP. The research evaluated several scenarios of how automation adoption and job creation trends could play out by 2030 for men and women given current gender patterns in the global workforce.
Employment projections for men and women
Men and women will encounter similar levels of job losses and job gains in a scenario where automation takes place on the scale of past technological disruptions, according to the report, which projects job losses for women of 107 million compared to job gains of 171 million. For men, job losses of 163 million are predicted to be offset by job gains of 250 million.
The breakdown of job gains and losses could differ significantly for men and women due to their tendency to cluster in different occupations. For example, women make up more than 70% of healthcare and social assistance workers in many economies but account for less than 25% of machine operators and craft workers. Similarly, more than half of women’s job losses could come from service and clerical-support occupations, while machine operation and craft work occupations could represent 40% of job losses for men. The strong presence of women in healthcare, especially in mature economies, could result in 25% of new jobs for women being in that field, while manufacturing could account for 25% of male job gains.
The report projects that job market upheaval will result in slightly lower percentages of female workers (7%–24%) than male workers (8%–28%) needing to transition occupations due to automation (the wide ranges in percentages reflect different paces of automation adoption). But the 40 million to 160 million women forced to transition will face more challenges than the 60 million to 275 million men who will need to find new occupations.
Challenges for women
To transition to new occupations, workers will often need new skills, especially in mature economies, where only jobs requiring a college or advanced degree are expected to experience a net growth in demand. Even workers who don’t change occupations many need to upskill and learn to work with automated systems.
That could leave women facing a tougher transition than men do. Women are more likely to work in lower-paying occupations in mature economies than men are, which could be problematic with demand for high-wage workers growing while demand shrinks for medium- and low-wage workers. In addition, women spend much more time on average than men do providing unpaid care (eg, for children). This leaves women with less time to search for employment or to learn the new skills likely to be required in the automation age.
Women also often are less mobile than men due to challenges related to physical safety, infrastructure, and legal protections. And they have less access to digital technology and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) fields than men.
To help women transition successfully in the automation age, McKinsey recommends that businesses and governments do the following:
- Invest in training programmes and platforms to allow women to develop necessary skills;
- Help women balance unpaid and paid work and develop infrastructure and networks to boost their labour mobility. Areas of focus here include childcare and access to safe and affordable transportation options;
- Improve women’s access to technology, their skills to use it, and their share of tech jobs and leadership roles.
— Jeff Drew (Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com) is an FM magazine senior editor.