Automation will create job opportunities and losses, particularly in tech. There is a risk women will be hit hardest
A few months ago I was in LA on my way to a meeting. Having realised that everyone there has a side project, I got chatting to my Uber driver about what he does when he isn’t working for the car-sharing app. He told me he was just about to make the final payment on his own Tesla driverless car. This was going to be the first in a fleet because he believed his days as an Uber driver were numbered.
He’d realised something important: the automation of jobs is coming faster than any of us are ready for and it presents both opportunities and losses. No longer restricted to actually having to be in the car in order to make money, this particular Uber driver had found a way to exponentially increase his income, while others might find themselves out of a job.
Depending on which study you look at, automation will affect between 47% and 80% (pdf) of all jobs in the US. Yet most of us believe our own jobs won’t be affected. The bad news is they almost certainly will be in some way, and the worse news is that if you’re a woman the impact is going to be greater.
As automation increases and men come to dominate the workplace even more, women are going to keep losing out
A recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), argues the automation of jobs is going to cause a particular problem for women in the technology industry. As certain industries begin to decline – such as administration, healthcare and financial services – others will increase. More roles will be created in the technology sector in particular.
This should be good news for women – more jobs should mean more employment opportunities. But the problem comes when you look at the disparity between men and women entering the sector. Because men outnumber women in tech, the increase of jobs won’t automatically mean more women get hired. In fact, the report argues that for every five female job losses there will be one job created. For men, there will be one job created for every three lost. So the gender gap in the workplace will actually increase rather than decrease.
We already know that unconscious bias leads to greater numbers of men (pdf) in senior roles. One way of changing this is to even out the numbers. But as automation increases and men come to dominate the workplace even more, women are going to keep losing out.
There is some good news, however. The WEF report suggested that the number of women in senior roles will increase in the coming years by 12%. It’s not a huge number but it’s something.
At the EY Women in Leadership summit in 2016, Uschi Schreiber, EY global vice chair of markets and chair of the global accounts committee, spoke of the need for senior women to be more aware of the effect automation would have on women further down the ladder. We might say this is something we’d never ask of men, but the reality is that redundancy programmes often hit women harder.
Earlier in 2017 the UK government announced that there needed to be a proper investigation into why pregnant women and mothers were at higher risk of redundancy. The reality is it’s because that’s the way it’s always been, and unless senior women challenge this attitude that’s the way it will always be. Automation might provide opportunities for some but the risks for women are huge, so we need to look out for each other.
By: Harriet Minter