Female-dominated jobs more susceptible to automation – gender pay gap could widen as a result


Published: 22 October, 2019

Female-dominated occupations are more vulnerable to automation, which could further widen the gender pay gap, warns recruiting experts Hays.

In its latest Hays Global Skills Index, the recruiter warns that while automation has the potential to impact a wide range of jobs, certain occupations in traditionally female-dominated areas are more susceptible.

“The gender pay gap has been an ongoing issue of debate for many years, however what hasn’t been considered in detail is the implications of technology on traditionally male versus female-dominated careers and therefore gender pay,” said Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director of Hays in Australia & New Zealand.

Many occupational structures remain gendered. Figures from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Oxford Economics indicate that more managers, professionals, technicians, craftspeople and operators are men while women still tend to dominate clerical support roles.

According to Hays, there’s a very real concern around technology taking over the roles largely dominated by women.

Several studies show that female-dominated careers are more susceptible to automation and globalisation. A report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that women tend to work in occupations that contain a greater proportion of routine tasks and fewer abstract tasks than men. These include secretarial, bookkeeping, retail assistant and customer service jobs.

“It’s widely accepted that the automation of routine and repetitive tasks is inevitable, which implies that women are more vulnerable to automation than men,” said Nick.

“With wages already lower in female-dominated occupations, even when educational differences are accounted for, the automation of routine jobs will widen the gender pay gap further.”

Unconscious bias in AI another issue

Another possible contributor to a widening gender pay gap, according to Hays, is the use of AI to screen job candidates and create a shortlist of people to interview.

“Occupations involved in the design and programming of artificial intelligence are segregated,” said Nick, referring to a World Economic Forum report that found women make up a mere 22% of these workers.

“The lack of diversity in a job that is pivotal to the creation of new and potentially ubiquitous technologies is a cause for concern when the unconscious bias of programmers and the use of data which is unrepresentative of the underlying population could exacerbate current inequalities.”

Nick cites the example of an algorithm that may interpret the lack of senior women in the corporate world as a reflection of lower levels of ability and therefore result in women not being selected for the shortlist for senior positions.

Embrace workforce diversity in all its forms

According to Hays, resolving the division within gender-dominated occupations will not only help reduce the gender pay gap but will increase the talent pool on offer for employers.

“Businesses have a part to play by ensuring that they are embracing diversity in all its forms, to make sure there is a fairer balance across roles and industries, and by also upskilling any employee whose role is at risk of automation,” said Alistair Cox, Hays CEO. 

Nick adds: “Organisations could offer return to work schemes for mothers who have left employment, helping to encourage participation in the workforce. As part of this, governments and businesses alike should ramp up programs that encourage women to seek careers in traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as technology,” he said.

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