Automation and jobs: The risks women face

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Published: June 6, 2019 12:02:15 AM

McKinsey Global Institute says 20% of the working women could lose their jobs by 2030 because of automation

women workforce, future of work, women employment, artificial intelligence, jobs for women, global trend of women, women labour forceThe report also states that women could gain 20% more jobs in the wake of technology-driven growth, outperforming men by 1%. (Reuters photo)

The inevitability of automation in the workplace has long triggered fears of human redundancy. In its third report on automation and the future of work, McKinsey Global Institute analyses how the march of artificial intelligence and machine learning impacts women’s employment.

Its findings, from studying a mix of ten mature and emerging economies, including India, are rather bleak. The report estimates that an average of 20% of working women in these countries (a total of 107 million) and 21% of working men (163 million) will lose their jobs to automation by 2030. Jobs in certain sectors, such as client support and manufacturing, face a higher risk than others that involve greater complexity of cognitive, social and emotional skills.

For India, this gives reason for pause. Already, the rate of female participation in the workforce was a mere 22.05% in 2018, compared with the South Asian average of 24.1% and a global average of 39%. Moreover, the majority of working women in India are employed in the agricultural and services sectors, as well as in industries, all of which have immense potential for automation. Losses in agriculture due to automation, for instance, could account for 28% of the jobs lost by women, as per the report.

While the report speaks of a global trend of women facing a slightly lower risk of losing their jobs than men due to the latter’s employment in the roles requiring physical labour that are easily automated, India presents as a bit of a corner case. For instance, only 16% of job losses for men are expected to stem from the automation of agriculture. Further, unlike the other countries studied, in India, healthcare—a sector likely to be less impacted by automation—is not dominated by women.

The report also states that women could gain 20% more jobs in the wake of technology-driven growth, outperforming men by 1%. This gain, however, is dependent on women’s ability to maintain their current share of employment. Since women work in lower-paid jobs than men, and demand is expected to grow in medium- and high-wage jobs, women’s access to the approximately 150 million net jobs that could be created is subject to their ability to make the transitions required into available jobs. Given how the burden of unpaid house/care work falls almost entirely on women’s shoulders, and there are lingering concerns over women’s physical safety and their lack of access to technology, obtaining the necessary training to make such a transition poses a unique problem. Policy makers must intervene to overcome these barriers to ensure growth, both for women and the economy.

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