Study reveals women will be hurt most by the rise of automation

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Women stand to fare far worse than men in the transition to an automated future, according to a new World Economic Forum report.

The report stands in stark contrast to recent proclamations by government and industry that automation will be a net positive for most people. The White House recently issued a report on automation telling us all to remain sangfroid. Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk painted an even rosier picture of a leisurely post-automation life. Not least, those actually building the bots to replace humans have also offered a rather positive outlook.

But even if they’re right, the benefits won’t be equally distributed — in particular across gender. Men outnumber women significantly in jobs related to science, technology, engineering and math fields, known as STEM. According to the new report, this trend will continue to exist into the near future, placing men at an advantage point as we enter an all-new digital age. The report states that this is a “a key emerging issue for gender parity, since STEM careers are projected to be some of the most sought-after in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The leaders of automation have pointed out time and again that the balance struck between human and machine is in collaboration. But if it’s mainly men who are creating the software, it will almost definitely be men working with it and maintaining it when necessary.

Another report called “Women and Work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution” states that there is a very real risk that gender inequality will be further entrenched as a new labor market develops. “We find that the burden of expected job losses due to disruptive change falls almost equally on women and men,” the report said: From 2015 to 2020, 2.45 million, or 48 percent, of the expected loss of 5.1 million jobs falls on women, while 2.65 million, or 52 percent, falls on men, says the report.

But given that men make up more of the workforce, women will fare relatively worse because they won’t get nearly as many jobs in absolute numbers. Men will face “nearly 4 million job losses and 1.4 million gains, approximately one job gained for every three jobs lost, whereas women will face 3 million job losses and only 0.55 million gains.” That translates to one new STEM-related job gained for every four jobs lost for men, but only one new STEM-related job for every 20 jobs lost for women.

The conclusion, says the report, is clear: If current trends don’t change, “women are at risk of losing out on tomorrow’s best job opportunities.”

Photo credit: Thomas Rousing via Flickr