Future of work report sees women's jobs at greatest risk


As Davos kicks off on Tuesday, a new report released by the World Economic Forum highlights the disruption that technology and other factors will have on jobs in coming years, disproportionately threatening posts occupied by women.


The 42-page document notes that creating value in today’s economy increasingly requires higher levels of specialised skills and knowledge, a fact that threatens to leave behind significant numbers of employees. The report is on the one hand a harbinger of slowing progress in the march toward workforce gender equality. And yet “Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All” strikes a hopeful need, finding very significant value in job training shepherded well, including a disproportionate advantage for “reskilled” women’s wages that could help bridge gendered pay disparities.

The report follows close on the World Economic Forum’s November finding in its 2017 Global Gender Gap Report that the worldwide trend towards gender equality appears to have made a U-Turn, particularly in workplaces, where it now isn’t expected to come to fruition before the year 2234.

Compiled in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, the WEF’s latest report draws specifically on US economic data. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 1.4 million jobs are slated to be disrupted between 2018 and 2026. The WEF report notes that a majority of those, a full 57 percent, are held by women. The WEF provides the example of the 164,000 women secretaries and administrative assistants at risk in a rapidly evolving economy, compared with 90,000 men in vulnerable assembly line jobs.

“This is a worrying development at a time when the workplace gender gap is already widening and when women are under-represented in the areas of the labour market expected to grow most robustly in the coming years,” the WEF says.

Without new skills training, the report finds, women in imperilled roles have fewer plan-B options than men in jobs endangered by the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution; 12 job transition options for women on average, according to the report’s complex scoring methodology, compared to 22 for the male workers at risk, owing to the respective economic roles they play. With reskilling, meanwhile, both women and men are shown to virtually quadruple their transition options, to 49 on average for women and 80 for men.

While the WEF report uses US data, Anne Boring, an economist at the Erasmus School of Economics in Rotterdam, says the trend is global and affects every country similarly. A specialist in gender equality, Boring notes that some existing fields traditionally occupied by women, like care and home services, are at relatively low-risk in an evolving economy, but that women are less of a force in science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs – the STEM fields likely to thrive in the future.

Boring notes that in France, only 20 percent of those with a master’s degree in STEM fields are women. And once women do enter a male-dominated STEM field, the working environment has a role in whether they choose to stay. “A huge reason why inequality is rising or stalling is that the environment in Silicon Valley or similar places is not friendly enough toward women,” Boring told FRANCE 24’s Sebastian Seibt. “We need to get more women in the pipeline and they have to be able to continue in tech,” she adds, noting that a similar effect is evident in the field of finance, a phenomenon where fewer women enter and those who do tend to be pushed out.

The economist sees solutions in education upstream, when young women are choosing their future career paths. “Women should be given more and better information about the consequences of their choice of studies,” says Boring. She adds that universities would do well to incorporate a wider palette of sought-after skills in fields that tend to attract women – like building Big Data into pharmaceutical studies. The specialist also suggests math and science curricula be enriched with more social science teaching, at once to make such male-dominated fields more attractive to women and to promote a more multidisciplinary approach in each field.

The WEF’s report, on a positive note, argues that reskilling and transitioning to a new job may actually disproportionately advantage women’s paycheques, with increased wages for 74 percent of women reskilled from at risk jobs, compared to 53 percent of the men who transition from imperilled roles. “This trend points to a potential convergence in women’s and men’s wages among the groups that make job transitions, partly addressing current wage inequality,” the report contends.

As the world’s economic elite descend on Switzerland for its annual confab, the World Economic Forum itself, after years of criticism for lacking parity, has women for the first time occupying 100 percent of one key role in Davos: All seven of the summit’s co-chairs this year are women, including International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and IBM head Ginni Rometty. A symbolic gesture for a global forum where women still only represent one-fifth of attendees.

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