On June 12, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) hosted an event on Capitol Hill that featured their recent report, “Women, Automation, and the Future of Work,” and facilitated a robust conversation about the impact that machine learning and artificial intelligence will have on women in the workforce. The event was co-sponsored by J.P. Morgan Chase, an AnitaB.org Pioneering Partner, who also helped to co-author the report.
According to expert panelists who spoke about the report, for every seven men who work in occupations that are most threatened by technological change, there are 10 women in such jobs due to occupational gender “clustering.”
This clustering — with women more likely than men to be concentrated in a few occupations — means that not only does automation affect men and women differently, but it will also impact women disproportionately. IWPR’s analysis found even more disparities when the data was broken down by race and ethnicity. Hispanic women face the highest risk of job automation, with one in three working in high-risk occupations.
What’s more, and perhaps even of greater concern to authors of the study, is the obstacles that women will face in terms of coping with job loss or change as a result of automation. According to Dr. Heidi Hartmann, President of IWPR, women will have more difficulty accessing and benefiting from workforce development programs because they tend to have less free time, face more obstacles to transportation, and see lower returns for the same level of digital skill compared to men which manifests in an earnings gap of 41% according to the study.
The findings in this report, and at the briefing, echo predictions that have been made by others on the same topic. Shortly after the release of the IWPR report, McKinsey & Company released a similar report, “The future of women at work: Transitions in the age of automation.” While the findings differ slightly — they found that women and men would experience job automation at a similar rate as their male — they agree with the conclusion that retraining and employment change will be more difficult for women to cope with on a macro-level.
As with any large economic shift, the seemingly scary news also presents an opportunity. At the event, Jennie Sparandara, Head of Workforce Initiatives, Global Philanthropy, at JP Morgan Chase, highlighted the ways in which their company is investing in its workforce to prepare their employees for changes that lie ahead. Their Re-Entry Program is particularly helpful to women who are seeking to re-enter the workforce after having taken a career hiatus.
Additionally, JP Morgan Chase is also looking outside of the company, to partners like community colleges, to bridge the gap between the skills employers need and training that is widely accessible to the technical workforce. Public-private partnerships help to facilitate scalable and demand-driven opportunities for individuals to join the technical workforce.
Why It Matters
While reports may differ on whether women will disproportionately lose their jobs as a result of automation, none deny that many will — 19 million in the U.S. alone, according to McKinsey. This includes many women in jobs that already require digital skills.
There has never been a greater need for workforce (re)training initiatives and policies in support of emerging workforce preparation that address the concerns of those experiencing, and at risk for, job automation. It’s crucial that the policies that emerge are intentional about recreating opportunities for women.
Furthermore, the systemic issues that pose challenges to women experiencing job automation are closely intertwined with the policy agenda that AnitaB.org is pursuing to push the needle for greater equity for women in tech. Sign up for our PoliTECHing newsletter to stay up to date with latest policy news impacting our mission and for opportunities to make your voice heard.