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3 Ways to Help Women Join the Age of Automation


In October of 2019, the Advancing Women Engineers team attended Industrial Transformation Mexico, a Hannover Messe event. A major focus of the event was preparation for “Industry 4.0.” This global movement to prepare for the next advancements in the manufacturing industry is an ever-evolving discussion on what effects automation will have on processes, efficiency, and the workforce. To read more about the AWE team’s trip to ITMexico, click here.

The World Economic Forum recently published a set of three ways employers can support women in the age of automation. This age, also coined as “Industry 4.0,” refers to the ongoing transformation in the manufacturing industry thanks to the digitization of manufacturing. The “4.0” represents the fourth revolution that has occurred in manufacturing. The first industrial revolution is know for creating mechanization through water and steam power, the second introduced mass production and assembly lines using electricity, and the third included the adoption of computers and automation.

According to the World Economic Forum and McKinsey Global Institute, as many as 160 million women may need to change jobs in the age of automation – nearly one-quarter of all women employed today. “The challenge is not so much who gets hit hardest by automation,” according to the WEF, “but how well individuals are prepared to adapt.” Given the opportunity to transition, women could be on a path to more productive, higher-paid work. If the opportunity is lacking, the gender pay gap may widen and many women may even leave the labor force as demand for lower-skilled jobs declines. According to the McKinsey Diversity Matters database, companies are promoting diversity but on the current trajectory it will take more than 20 years to reach parity in executive positions. This progress could be derailed even further if women are not helped to make the transitions they need in the face of automation.

Age of Automation

In data for the UK and US, McKinsey and the World Economic Forum found that companies with more than 30% women on their executive teams were almost 40% more likely to outperform their peers on earnings before interest and taxation margins (EBIT) than their counterparts with 10-30% women executives.

Here are the three keys to the future of work for women as defined by the World Economic Forum:

1) Different and Higher Skills
According to WEF and McKinsey’s research, net demand for labor is expected to be positive only for jobs requiring a college or advanced degree. Their research in 2018 found that demand for basic cognitive, physical, and manual skills will decline, but that jobs could require up to 55% more time using technical skills and 24% more hours using social and emotional skills by 2030.
Although the gender gap in education is narrowing, fewer women are graduating in fields that will grow and be vital for future employment. In the UK, only 37% of first-year full-time female students study science subjects, compared to 48% of men.
The private sector can invest more in reskilling employees or partnering with academic or other institutions. Public and private investment in digital learning platforms would open up new avenues for women.

2) Opportunities to be Mobile
Women are less mobile than men because of the disproportionate undertaking of unpaid care work in the home, compromising their scope for training and paid employment. With access to the right technology, women could have the flexibility to work remotely – whether in the gig economy or in e-commerce – but companies need to expand the range of flexible working options.

3) Access to Technology and Savviness to Use It
Globally, technology could be the breakthrough needed by women, allowing them to work more flexibly. Yet, women lag behind men in access to tech, skills, and leadership. According to the WEF and McKinsey, men are 33% more likely than women to have access to the internet, and women only account for 35% of STEM students in higher education. Fewer than 20% of tech workers are female in many mature economies. Companies have a role to play in narrowing these gaps, working with educational institutions to develop a broader pipeline of women going into tech fields.

With this knowledge of the transitions women need to make, the World Economic Forum states “the public, private, and third sectors need to work together to support women to make the transitions they need to thrive in the automation age.”

To read more on the World Economic Forum’s “Three ways we can help women join the age of automation,” click here.

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