Gender inequality may worsen as artificial intelligence displaces more workers.
As many as 160 million women may need to transition to other professions by 2030, according to a new report by the McKinsey Global Institute. Women will likely need to transition into higher-skilled roles, as McKinsey predicts only jobs requiring a college degree will experience a net growth in demand.
McKinsey’s report builds on prior research that found automation will threaten male-dominated industries, like trucking or manufacturing. Traditional “women’s work,” or jobs with greater social intelligence like social work and nursing, are harder to automate.
McKinsey finds on the whole that men face similar threats of displacement: 21% of men on average could lose their jobs to automation, compared to 20% of women. Yet structural barriers may hold women back from adapting to the new workforce. Women have less time to reskill or search for different jobs since they spend more time on childcare, the report stated.
“Men and women need to be skilled, mobile, and tech-savvy in the automation age, but women face long-established barriers on all three, which makes it harder to make the necessary transitions,” Mekala Krishnan, senior fellow at MGI and a report co-author, said in a release.
The report looked into the impacts on six developed nations and four developing economies, which together account for half the world’s population and 60% of the global GDP. While automation in developing countries like India and Mexico could result in a net increase in jobs, women (who make up the bulk of low-paying workers) must have better access to education to transition careers.
In countries like the US and Canada, job growth will likely be more concentrated to two sectors: healthcare and technical services. Women are largely overrepresented in the healthcare sector, especially in jobs like nursing.
In technical services, however, women might fall behind if they do not acquire more technical skills. The report calls for greater government and industry investment into supporting skills-building efforts and increasing gender balance in technology.
Industry leaders have called already for greater investment in skills retraining to prepare for greater automation. Retraining workers could save companies billions of dollars in restructuring, and some firms, such as consultancy Accenture, have already begun implementing programs.
Vocational training and apprenticeship programs could also aid in job transitions once automation hits. Yet current government investment into skills retraining is abysmal: federal investment in skills training has been cut nearly in half over the last two decades, according to the National Skills Coalition.