Women and Work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold in different industries and job families, it will affect female and male workers and the dynamics of the industry gender gap in manifold ways. By their very nature, many of the current expected drivers of change have the potential to enable the narrowing of industry gender gaps. Household work could be further automated, relieving some of the current dual burden and allowing women to put their skills to use in the formal economy. Changes to what have traditionally been men’s roles in the workforce will also reshape the division of labour at home. Similarly, many respondents and industry observers agree on the need to rethink work, taking a holistic approach to workforce planning. Shaping the new and emerging landscape of flexible working presents an unprecedented opportunity to rebalance the gender divide, for example by providing companies with a chance to explore results-driven rather than presence-driven role evaluation. Harnessed well, the emergence of new flexible working patterns and other similar trends could result in a more gender balanced workplace.32
However, as disruptive change is coming to business models, jobs are displaced and a new labour market materializes out of the vestiges of the old, there is also a risk that these trends and drivers of change might sustain or worsen other existing gendered inequalities.33 At the declining end of the labour market, the drivers of change identified by our respondents will heavily disrupt some of the job families with the largest share of female employees, such as Office and Administrative roles, but also some of those with the largest traditional gender gap, such as Manufacturing and Production. From a net employment outlook perspective—by simply translating job families’ reported current gender composition (Table 14) to the expected absolute job gains and losses over the 2015–2020 period calculated in the previous chapter (Figure 6)—we find that the burden of expected job losses due to disruptive change falls almost equally on women and men: 2.45 million (48%) of the expected total net job loss of 5.1 million falls on women, 2.65 million (52%) of it on men.
That, in itself, indicates widening gender gaps in the workforce, as women make up a smaller share of the overall labour force. In absolute terms, men will face nearly 4 million job losses and 1.4 million gains, approximately one job gained for every three jobs lost, whereas women will face 3 million job losses and only 0.55 million gains, more than five jobs lost for every job gained. On current trends and predictions, men will lose more than 1.7 million jobs across the Manufacturing and Production and Construction and Extraction job families, but are set to gain over 600,000 jobs in Architecture and Engineering and Computer and Mathematical functions. Women will only lose 0.37 million jobs in these two male-dominated job families but are set to gain little more than 100,000 jobs in Architecture and Engineering and Computer and Mathematical functions if current gender gap ratios persist over the 2015–2020 period—nearly one new STEM job per four jobs lost for men, but only one new STEM job per 20 jobs lost for women.
The conclusion is clear. If current industry gender gap trends persist and labour market transformation towards new and emerging roles in computer, technology and engineering-related fields continues to outpace the rate at which women are currently entering those types of jobs, women are at risk of losing out on tomorrow’s best job opportunities while aggravating hiring processes for companies due to a restricted applicant pool and reducing the diversity dividend within the company.
However—while substantially more effort will be needed—our data contains some encouraging signs that current trends need not continue. As traditionally male-dominated job families take on newfound importance and applications in industries that previously housed few such roles but have a strong track record of employing, retaining and leveraging female talent, the current culture may drive future recruitment efforts in new roles. However more deliberate efforts will also be needed to meet talent needs and address gender gaps. As demand for talent in Architecture and Engineering and Computer and Mathematical fields—with poor gender balance—grows, governments, individuals and companies will need to ensure that the full talent pool of men and women is educated, recruited and promoted.