Why the robot revolution will affect women way more than men
It’s fair to say that the robot revolution is well and truly underway, from self-serve checkouts to Amazon’s Alexa. No longer do we have to look someone in the eye while we buy condoms. Nor do we have to actually speak to someone to order our takeaway at the end of a long day. We're all comfortably content that it’s easier to just let a faceless machine sort it for us.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has labelled this shift towards the automation of jobs as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. But what does this actually mean in terms in terms of jobs? What happens to the people we’re too tired or too ashamed to deal with?
Well, I’m afraid it’s - predictably - not great news for anyone. And it’s going to hit women harder than anyone else.
The predictions are worrying
However you look at it, the predictions are scary. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute has found that by 2030 800 million jobs will be lost to automation globally.
More specifically, the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis (ISEA) estimates that twice as many women will lose their jobs to automation than men. While the WEF contends that men will face approximately one job gained for every three jobs lost, whereas women will face more than five jobs lost for every job gained.
So why are women likely to be hit harder?
It's partly because women are twice as likely to have jobs in professions that face the highest automation risk. This includes office and administrative roles, as well as some manufacturing and production positions.
Women make up 73% of cashiers, and they are believed to face the biggest immediate threat. 97% of cashier jobs are due to become automated within the next few years. And in the USA, this makes up approximately seven million jobs in retail.
Obviously, this is not helping efforts toward equality. The WEF is predicting:
"widening gender gaps in the workforce, as women make up a smaller share of the overall labour force."
According to the ISEA, education levels are also believed to have a large influence on how safe jobs are: "Workers without a high school degree face an almost six times higher risk than those with a doctorate."
As a result, low-skilled women are at greater risk of being unemployed for the long-term. This is because they are less likely to be accepted into other career sectors.
It will affect some ethnic groups more than others
It may not be all bad for women, however. For professional women, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, could provide greater career progression.
It will allow educated women to "put their skills to use in the formal economy". And this could even narrow the gender pay gap in some industries. Of course, this does little to help the seven million cashiers.
But, it’s not only women who will be affected by the robot revolution. Due to the differing levels of access to higher education within ethnic groups, there will also be divides along racial lines. And unsurprisingly, it is white workers that fare best
An ISEA report figures that in the US, 25% more Hispanic workers than whites are set to lose their jobs to robots. As well as, 13% more African Americans and 11% more Asian workers.
Fortunately, certain careers remain more immune to the effects of the robot revolution than others. This includes creative industries and healthcare professions that rely on human interaction.
If you're curious about how your own chances stack up, the website Will Robots Take My Job? now allows users to check how safe their job is by assessing various professions on their the perceived likelihood of them becoming automated in future. It's good news if you're a therapist, but if you're library assistant then it might just be best to assume that ignorance is bliss.
The bottom line
The fact is, that humans are no match for the productivity of a machine; nor do they demand breaks or holidays or compassionate leave. They're cheaper and more effective, and business is about bucks, after all.
So next time you’re in the supermarket, choose the (wo)man not the machine - because they might not be there for too much longer. And they really don't care what's in your basket.