June 11, 2019

Automation risks leaving women behind, according to new report

Automation risks leaving women behind, according to new report

A potential 40–160 million women will need to transition occupations or learn new skills to combat the effect of new automation technologies and AI and stay in the workforce by 2030, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute.

The report examines the impact of automation in six mature (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US) and four emerging economies (China, India, Mexico, and South Africa), which together account for roughly 50% of the world’s population and about 60% of GDP.

“Machines’ ability to perform cognitive, physical, and social tasks is accelerating, dramatically changing jobs and labor markets,” writes Michael Gibbs, for IZA World of Labor.

Women will find it hard to adapt to this transformation without boosting their skills, according to the McKinsey report.

The report finds that although a similar number of men face the same challenges, they will be in a better position to deal with them. Among other issues, women have less access to the internet and mobile technology throughout the world; are less mobile due to physical safety, infrastructure, and legal challenges; and are much more likely to be juggling paid work with unpaid care work. As a result, they are less mobile or able to spend time on or getting to job interviews and training programs. Training provision needs to reach women where they are.

“If we invest [in reskilling] ahead of the coming upheaval to our global economy, the age of automation could offer women a future of more productive and potentially higher-paid jobs—and accelerate progress toward gender equality by addressing both the old and new barriers women face at work,” say Liz Hilton Segel and Lareina Yee, both senior partners at McKinsey & Company. 

The report identifies the following high priorities: more investment in training and transitional support; more provision of childcare and safe and affordable transportation; addressing stereotypes about occupations; boosting women’s access to mobile internet and digital skills in emerging economies; and supporting women in STEM professions and entrepreneurship.

Gibbs finds the skills most likely to be of value for future technological change to be abstract thinking, analytical, and problem solving skills. As a result, mathematics, statistics, science, engineering, and economics have risen in prominence. Also, creativity, and social and communication skills are vital. He encourages educational institutions to teach this combination of skills.

Read more IZA World of Labor articles on innovation and the future of work.