Women and Work in the Age of Automation; Some Changes to Expect

Automation is expected to cause changes across the board for every demographic group currently participating in the workforce.  However, like other historical workplace changes, not all demographic groups will be impacted in the same way. McKinsey and Company has published a relevant report -The future of women at work; transitions in the age of automation - which focuses on this demographic specifically. The report demonstrates how, without preparation, women could potentially lose ground in the workplace if they fail to effectively maneuver through the transitions that come with increasingly automated workplaces. 

The opening salvo is a clear warning to women: “Concerted and creative new solutions are needed to enable women to seize new opportunities in the automation age; without them, women may fall further behind in the world of work.” Read the full 168 page report here.

The research looks at historical patterns in job loss, the types of work with higher potential and likelihood for automation, areas for likely job growth or new jobs and the types of jobs that could change. Given the existing gender patterns in the workplace, the study then explored scenarios for future changes over the next decade.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Work considered historically to be “women’s work” or “pink-collar” work such as basic data collection and processing are good candidates for automation.  This means that some of the tasks in certain job roles could change.  Looking at the data for US workers, the study found that more jobs typically held by women, are less likely to be fully automated by 2030. This means that women could see more evolution in their job roles.

  • Certain job skills could become more important in daily work. For example, the report posits that by 2030, workers could be required to spend “55 percent more time using technical skills and 24 percent more hours using social and emotional skills.” 

  • In five of the six economies looked at in the study, the net demand for labor only grows in jobs that will require basic and advanced college degrees.

  • The bulk of job losses for women could be in the lower paid clerical roles.

Some of the recommendations from the study were:

  • Fostering dynamic career paths for women to increase opportunities to advance their careers into some of the professional roles that are not projected to be eliminated through automation.

  • Enhancing legal protections and safety nets for those most vulnerable to automation.  The report cites studies in Europe suggesting that by “2025 European governments may need to increase annual spending on unemployment benefits and reskilling programs,” due to automation.

  • Doing more to engage women with technology more.  The study posits, “technology can help women in a myriad of ways as they participate in the workforce and navigate [workplace and career] transitions.”

The report illustrates the urgency to address potential impact of automation in general, but more specifically the need to focus on the needs of certain demographic groups at risk of displacement. 

This report looks at gender and offers good information.  However, there is much more research to be done to explore the potential impact of automation on workers grouped by other variables such as ethnicity, age and digital literacy.