The future of work in the age of automation

Ana P. Santos
The future of work in the age of automation
A McKinsey Global Institute report released at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference examines the impact of automation in 6 mature economies and 4 emerging economies


VANCOUVER, Canada – An estimated 40 million to 160 million women will be affected by job changes brought on by automation and artificial intelligence by 2030. For workers to adapt and survive the age of automation and artificial intelligence, they will need to acquire new skills and be more tech-savvy.

These were the main findings of a McKinsey Global Institute report released on Tuesday, June 4, at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference, the largest global health conference on reproductive health rights and gender equality.

The report examined the impact of automation in 6 mature economies (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) and 4 emerging economies (China, India, Mexico and South Africa). Together, these countries account for roughly half of the world’s population and about 60% of the global gross domestic product (GDP).

Jobs gained, jobs lost almost the same

As with any kind of disruption like the industrial revolution, the automation of work will render some jobs obsolete but it will also create new jobs. 

The McKinsey report analyzed various scenarios for jobs lost and gained in the age of automation, and predicted that roughly about 107 million women (about 20%) could find their jobs displaced by automation, while 163 million men (about 21%) woud be affected.

In the case of jobs lost due to automation, women may be only slightly less at risk than men. However, authors of the report noted that existing barriers that hinder women from participating in the workforce could also prevent them from surviving the transition to automation. 

To offset jobs displacement and prepare women for the transition, the report suggests leveling the areas where women are at a disadvantage like digital equity, better sharing of domestic and caregiving work load, and creating safer workplaces for women.

The internet will be the key to accessing training for skills, but men have 33% more access to the internet compared to women.

“The very things that you need to succeed in this new world of work – you need skills, you need mobility, and you need technological access…these are the very things that many women don’t have. So if anything, it’s just going to make the challenge harder for them,” said Mekala Krishnan, senior fellow at McKinsey Global Institute. 

If women are cannot make this transition, they are likely to be stuck in low wage jobs or compete for falling wages – the gains towards gender equality and work parity could be lost.  

Not asking the right questions 

Labor rights activists caution that current discussions on the future of work leaves out interventions for women who have low paying jobs.

“A lot of dialogue on automation isn’t asking the right questions,” said Vicky Smallman, National Director for Women and Human Rights for the Canadian Labor Congress. “The reality is that there are many jobs – which many women hold – [that] cannot be automated. These are the people who are doing low pay care work, a lot of jobs that are difficult to underpaid, undervalued, and underrecognized.”

According to Smallman, most interventions revolve around getting more women in STEM or acquiring new skills for entrepreneurship. Bulk of the women who are in the workforce hold low paying jobs and won’t be able to take these opportunities because of limited education, time, and resources.  

“We should be asking: How do we make work fair for all women and those who have the lowest wages and those who are at the bottom of the workforce? Because that’s where most women are,” Smallman said.

Philippine scenario 

A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) showed that about 49% of jobs in the Philippines are at high automation risk. Low-skilled workers, women, youth, and less educated workers are most likely to feel the impact of automation. 

Among the high risk industries are the business process outsourcing (BPO) and electronics where an estimated 80% of workers are seen to be displaced by technological innovation.

The report said: “Technology adoption is transforming skill requirements. Enterprises in the BPO and E&E sectors are requiring high-skilled workers with strong STEM backgrounds. It is critical that policymakers, employers and training institutions work together in order to foster technical.” – 

Ana P. Santos is covering the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada, with support from Women Deliver.


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