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Will Automation and AI cause a breakthrough in the gender divide at workplace?

For almost 3 decades, women’s share of global labour force, hasn’t shifted at all. Sure, there’s been the #Metoo movement, there have been voices and efforts against the gender pay gap, there have been initiatives and movements to encourage woman entrepreneurship. However, what has also happened is zero, to very little effort when it comes to creating support structures for women who return to work after pregnancy or being a stay-at-home mom.


Now, there is technology, the never retiring workforce, millennials who do not want to come to the office, companies that operate out of co-working spaces, business that open and shut down like mushrooms, without any legacy. All of this, creating a huge rift in the workforce needs and availability. One would almost think that women should be able to get jobs more easily now.

However, there’s also automation and artificial intelligence (AI).


The question to consider is whether this landscape is going to cause the breakthrough that working women need, or is it going to instead cause a breakdown. Will working women be able to find new opportunities and tap into them, or will this set of developments, lead to increasing the gender gap in work, even more?


While research reports indicate that both men and women will get equally displaced over the next decade, the fact remains that as compared to men, women will need to transition far more significantly. That will result in more difficulty in them capturing new opportunities, because of the already existent barriers they have.


As per a recent research report by Mckinsey, if automation and AI continue to proceed the way disruptions always have, then the difference in the number of women and men displaced from their jobs would only be 1% by 2030.


If women can hold up their current ratios in each sector and occupation, they could be employed more than man. However, this does not seem like a very plausible outcome, because generally, the kinds of career men and women choose are quite different, despite all encouragement to women in STEM careers. So, in order to say with certainty, whether women will be displaced from the workforce more than men, we need to see the technical feasibility of automation and, the pace of its adoption. Also, the nature of jobs where men and women will be displaced differentially, needs to be considered, in order to make reasonable predictions.



So, let’s see where will women lag?


Globally, 40 – 160 million women may need to transition between occupations, specially in roles that need higher skill set. While this is like the number of transition men must make, the issue for women is that they will need to deal not just wit the older barriers, but also the overlay of automation and AI on it. The new kinds of jobs are going to be mostly about new technology, which further puts women at a disadvantage. Consider digital marketing, uber driving, or data sciences, jobs that didn’t exist earlier and are male-dominated industries now.


Further, women will not just lag on skill, but also on mobility. They are often less mobile than men, because they juggle work and family and hence have less time to reskill or upskill, and the distance they can travel for work. While remote work may come to their aid, usually flexible options come in when the industry has stabilized rather than, when it’s new. So, unless the number of employers offering flexible or remote positions increases significantly, women will tend to lose on work opportunities, more than men.


Technology will be another area where women will lag. While technology has opened for women, new economic avenues, like reselling, e-retail, gig economy etc., they are still far behind men in access to tech, the skill to use it and the ability to participate in its creation.


Globally, men are 33% more likely than women to have access to the internet, and women only account for 35% of STEM students in higher education. This brings us back to the vicious circle of skill, mobility and tech. So, unless all stakeholders including governments, educational institutions and employers together, do not enable women through concerted solutions, we might actually witness a wider gender gap at workplace, rather than a breakthrough in bridging it.


The automation age offers new opportunities for economic advancement for women, but they face new challenges overlaid on long-established ones. To tap into their full potential, companies, together with governments, need to enable women through concerted and creative solutions to equip them for the change