The future of work: automation worse for women?

Published on: 11 July 2019
Men and women will be roughly equally affected by automation over the next decade, according to a new report from the consultants at McKinsey. But females may “face pervasive barriers” in trying to brush up their skills for the future, as many of them balance responsibilities in the workplace and the home.

The authors of the study predict that automation could affect up to 160 million women globally by 2030, often forcing them to make the transition into higher-skilled roles. But in some countries, it seems, women are already adapting to this new idea.

“There is a huge difference per region and per country in the participation of women in the labour market, but also in the different types of professions,” says Michiel van Rossum, business director at Select International.

In the developed world most people are prone to choosing administrative, legal, economic or communication jobs, instead of work in IT or engineering. In the West, then, men and women alike will have to adapt to new technology to stay employed. But women, a co-author of the McKinsey study claimed, will do so “with a weight around their ankles”.

“When we look at men vs. women in the West,” Michiel says, “we see women are less involved in that technical hard-skill professions. So in the long run, they could face a disadvantage following a technological shift.”

In developing countries, however, people are flocking to engineering and IT educations. Take Iran, for instance. “Most people don't know this,” Michiel says, “but Iran is the Silicon Valley of the Middle East.” Considering women there account for nearly 60 per cent of university students, automation seems less likely to affect their job prospects than those of their western counterparts.

In certain countries in Western Europe, such as Belgium, Michiel claims, we need more highly-skilled workers in engineering and IT. “We need those people, but most companies don’t realize that there are a lot of female engineers or IT people in developing countries such as India, Iran and Morocco,” he says. “Maybe they should put more effort into getting them here."

“I really believe that technological progress can bring many benefits to women in those countries,” Michiel adds. “This can be our added value at Select International, that we bring these highly qualified women, who are often placed in second-rate positions in their home countries, here.”