For Women, The Future of Work Is Looking Bleak
Women are going to face even bigger employment challenges in the coming years, according to a report released on Monday by The World Economic Forum. Among the report’s many gloomy predictions, it projected that the economic gender gap will grow even wider than it is today.
The WEF, which is hosting its annual leadership summit in Davos, Switzerland this week, surveyed chief human resources officer at the largest employers and found that from 2015 to 2020 the global economy is on track to lose 7.1 million jobs to “disruptive labor changes.” Such disruptions include the rise of artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, and “smart” home, factory, and farm systems. During that same period, the economy will create just 2 million new jobs.
The net decline in employment will disproportionally hurt women. The global economic gender gap between men and women—an index developed by the WEF that measures labor participation, wage equity, and the male-to-female ratio among company leadership—has shrunk by a mere 3% since 2006, when the foundation started keeping track.
The burden of job losses predicted by the WEF report falls almost equally on women and men. Women will lose 2.45 million jobs, or 48% of the expected employment decline. Men will lose 2.65 million jobs, or 52% of the total. But the losses will hit women hardest since they make up a smaller share of total employment. The WEF says:
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 550,000 gains, more than five jobs lost for every job gained.
The widening gender employment gap is also partly explained by women’s low participation in the sectors that are expected to make up for the jobs lost—namely computers and mathematics. Men will lose about 1.7 million jobs from manufacturing and production and construction and extraction. But they’ll gain some 600,000 jobs in two other sectors—architecture and engineering and computer and mathematical functions. Women will lose only 370,000 jobs from the male-dominated sectors of manufacturing and construction, but they’re set to gain as few as 100,000 jobs in architecture and computer-related fields, according to the WEF report.
If current gender gap ratios persist from now until 2020, the WEF says, there will be “nearly one new STEM job per four jobs lost for men, but only one new STEM job per 20 jobs lost for women.” Those statistics, “[add] to the urgency with which leaders must address the chronic problem of getting more women into STEM—science, technology, engineering, mathematics—professions,” the WEF says.
The WEF’s insistence that women’s talents are “underutilized” apparently haven’t translated to widespread concern at the company level, with just 53% of those answering the survey saying that promoting women’s participation is a priority item on their organization’s senior leadership’s agenda. That figure doesn’t necessarily bode well for addressing what those same respondents said was the most significant barrier to gender parity—unconscious bias among managers. (And neither does the 18% female participation rate at the World Economic Forum’s gathering in Davos this week.)
But don’t worry ladies, the report offers one piece of good news—”household work, that is still primarily the responsibility of women in most societies, could be further automated, leaving women to put their skill sets to better use, including in the formal labour market.”
Who needs gender parity when you have a robot that can dust and vacuum?