Study finds that women face greater threat from automation

Women are more likely to be negatively affected by automation, according to a study published by the World Economic Forum. The study claims that improvements in artificial intelligence will lead to greater automation, which will replace low-wage jobs that are mostly held by women. The study, titled “Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All,” concluded that about 1.8 million U.S. jobs would be lost to automation within the next eight years. Workers affected by these labor market disruptions are largely projected to be women by a margin of 57 percent.

In addition to losing their current jobs, women would have half as many opportunities to obtain new jobs. Becoming re-employed or transitioning into a new career path could be expensive, and involve obtaining new skills or going to college for a degree or training, which women are less likely to do compared to men.

Besides male-dominated manufacturing sectors, technological innovation also poses a threat to service sectors dominated by women.

The study was focused on the effects of technology and its implications on the United States, but its conclusion holds internationally.

According to various reports released by the International Labor Organization, work trends in Asia and other areas are proportionately similar to the United States.

Unlike the United States, however, labor-intensive manufacturing in other countries is not limited to men. This is especially true in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, where women make up the majority of workers in the clothing industry and face the greatest risk posed by automation.

In a conversation with HuffPost, the co-author of the study, Jae-Hee Chang, said, “Worryingly, many of these female workers come from rural areas and are breadwinners of their families.”

This gender pay disparity and its subsequent effects on women reflects the roles that gender plays in established organizations and how most positions in corporate entities remain out of reach.

Low-paying professions that fundamentally use gender as a job qualification are more likely to be affected by automation. The top three job positions that employ more female than male workers on average include administrative jobs, hospitality services and primary school teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the year of 2016.

Sectors such as construction and extraction overwhelmingly prefer male employees by 97 percent, according to the WEF study, followed by maintenance and repair by 95 percent.

These figures show that organizations heavily employ women in secretarial and administrative assistant roles that could be replaced by artificial intelligence, especially bots.

Bots follow a set of predetermined instructions to carry out simple tasks. One bot is capable of replacing six female workers employed in sectorial roles.

However, the figures do not reflect the long-term trend, as most workers are likely to find new, better-paying jobs in other sectors by utilizing resources such as reskilling and government assistance.

According to the study, gender plays an additional role when considering alternative options, since the study shows how without reskilling, at-risk female workers have an average of 12 job transition options whereas their male counterparts have about 22 options.

With reskilling, the number of options increases from 12 to 49 for females and from 22 to 80 for males. Although reskilling would narrow the average gap in job transition opportunities between men and women, the total numbers are still less for women.

One challenge would be figuring out how to analyze the way job trends change and steer young women into areas that are well-paying and employable.

The study suggests that young women could pursue majors that would be sustainable in the future, such as science, technology, engineering and math. These majors boast some of the highest employment numbers and starting salaries, but only 27 percent of women are majoring in STEM fields.

Increasing automation has its perks. It could lead to an increase in pay for women, especially those who enroll in skill enrichment programs, by 74 percent compared to 53 percent for men.

In a conversation with Bloomberg, author Saadia Zahidi stated that government assistance should include efforts from policy makers to protect the jobs of those most vulnerable.

Protection would include programs like safety nets to support workers while they reskill and job-matching schemes that could match workers and their skill sets for sustainable positions in the future.

Zahidi also added how retraining would be a deliberate approach that would “ensure that some of these gender gaps would be closed and would additionally provide an opportunity where we can use this as a tool to accelerate gender parity.”