World Economic Forum Quietly Acknowledges Automation as a Gender Issue

Women stand to lose more than men to robot workers.

Getty Images / Denis Doyle

In its 2016 Gender Parity and Human Capital Report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) evaluated the progress of women being equally represented in work forces all around the world over the past year. Most striking from the assessment is the acknowledgement that automation is likely to hurt more women because of the sorts of jobs that the gender typically has.

The report noted improvements in several areas. The number of working-age women taking part in the formal economy has increased by 2 percent globally since the previous year. Globally, young women and men are entering the labor force at almost identical levels of educational qualifications. This is true in all areas but STEM. This does not bode well for the interests of women as artificial intelligence systems and robots continue to replace human workers.

Essentially, the report acknowledges that this disparity could lead to greater economic disenfranchisement for women. Because a greater proportion of women’s economic output is in lower-skill areas, they stand to bear a significant amount of the burden from automation.

The WEF explains, “One area in which women continue to remain under-represented is among STEM graduates, for which the global gender gap stands at 47 percent, with 30 percent of all male students graduating from STEM subjects, in contrast to 16 percent of all female students.” The report cites factors such as “negative stereotypes” and a dearth of good role models as reasons for this imbalance.

The WEF expects that jobs in the STEM field are “projected to be some of the most sought-after in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” However, the industry still also be affected by automation. The New Web points out that the STEM field stands to “create only one job for every four it loses.” And that’s the statistic for men. For women, because they are already underrepresented, only one job will be gained for every 20 that are lost. For women of color, who as of 2015 comprised merely 9 percent of tech employees, the outlook is even bleaker.

This isn’t even accounting for the new working-age people who will be entering the workforce every year. If competition for coveted STEM jobs increases without a concurrent shift in the culture of these disciplines, it’s possible that women will be pushed even farther to the margins than they already are. It will be, in large part, up to the governments of industrialized nations to see to it that the future of their workers, particularly their women workers, are protected. Unfortunately, to take Donald Trump’s incoming administration as an example, some don’t necessarily appear poised to do so.

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