The Fourth Industrial Revolution: It gets worse for women

  • Labour disruptions may have disproportionately negative impact on women
  • One of the worst culprits is the mobile and ICT industry
The Fourth Industrial Revolution: It gets worse for women

 
THE Fourth Industrial Revolution will have a disproportionately negative impact on the economic prospects of women, although the emphasis on talent brought about by sweeping changes caused by disruptions to the labour force will result in more women progressing into senior positions, a new study by the World Economic Forum has found.
 
According to The Industry Gender Gap Report, the burden of job losses that will result from automation and disintermediation as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will impact women and men relatively equally, with 52% of the 5.1 million net job losses expected globally between now and 2020 affecting men, compared with 48% affecting women.
 
However, the fact that women make up a smaller share of the workforce means that today’s economic gender gap may widen even further than the current 40%, the report argued.
 
The industry gender gap report is the first study of its kind, representing more than 13 million employees in nine industry sectors and 15 economies, according to Ooredoo, a strategic partner associate of the World Economic Forum and a partner of the Global Challenge Initiative on Gender Parity.
 
“We hope that by raising the profile of this issue more organisations and governments will also work to tackle the barriers to gender inequality in the workplace,” said Ooredoo Group chairman Abdullah Mohammed Saud Al Thani (pic).
 
“This report provides vital insight into the current status of women in the workforce, and the significant potential for development and improvement,” added Abdullah, also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Global Challenge initiative on Gender Parity.
 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: It gets worse for women

 
Disproportionate loss
 
This blow to gender equality can be explained by the fact that some of the roles most at risk from automation and disintermediation are those that are performed by a larger proportion of women, Ooredoo said in its statement.
 
However, it is also partly a result of the fact that women are relatively under-represented when it comes to jobs that are expected to have the most growth in the next five years; for example, the Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering job families.
 
Given women’s low participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematical) professions, one of the fastest-growing areas of job creation, women stand to gain only one new STEM job for every 20 lost across other job families, whereas the ratio for men is one new job for every four lost elsewhere.
 
This new data illustrates the urgency with which leaders across business and policy must find new ways to ensure that the full talent pool of men and women is educated, recruited and promoted, Ooredoo said.
 
According to the survey, while traditionally employers have struggled to retain women colleagues beyond the junior level, respondents expect to see an increase of 7-9 percentage points in the share of women in mid-level positions by 2020 and an 8-13 percentage point rise in the number of senior positions being held by women as retention becomes ever more important in the face of key global talent shortages.
 
The expected increase applies to all nine industry sectors assessed in the report, although to varying degrees.
 
The three that will see the most significant increases of female workers across all job categories between now and 2020 are: Energy (22%-30%); Basic Industries and Infrastructure (20%-27%); and Healthcare (41%-48%).
 
In all three, the number of women in senior roles is expected to double, albeit from a low base.
 
The Media, Entertainment and Information sector is the only one that will see a reduction in the number of women in the next five years, with female composition expected to drop across all job levels, from 47% to 46%.
 
However even here, women can expect to see more opportunity, with the proportion of women in mid-level and senior-level positions expected to grow from 25% in each today to 32% and 33% respectively.
 
Despite well-documented worldwide talent shortages in key positions, there are a variety of reasons given by respondents – mainly chief human resources officers and senior strategy executives – as to why they are seeking to raise the number of women in their organisations.
 
Here, fairness and equality stands out as the leading reason, having been chosen by 42% of respondents.
 
By contrast, only 23% said they were doing so to enhance innovation or better reflect the gender composition of their customer base, the next two highest-placed rationales.
 
Industry analysis
 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: It gets worse for women

 
Female talent remains one of the most underutilised business resources, either lost through lack of progression or untapped from the onset, Ooredoo said.
 
Although women are, on average, more educated than men globally and now participate more fully in professional and technical occupations than 10 years ago, as of today, their chances to rise to positions of leadership are only 28% of those of men globally.
 
Women continue to make up less of the labour force overall than men, and where they participate in the formal economy their earnings for similar work are lower.
 
The talents of half the world’s potential workforce are thus often wasted or underutilised due to barriers on the path to women’s successful workforce integration, the Doha-headquartered telco giant said in its statement.
 
Across all industries, women make up on average 35% of junior level staff, 25% of mid-level staff, 15% of senior level staff and 10% of chief executive officers (CEOs).
 
The industries with the worst junior level uptake include Mobility, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Energy, and Basic and Infrastructure.
 
They also report more dramatic drop-offs along the talent pipeline, with low intake at the junior level translating to similar underperformance later on, creating a vicious circle.
 
At the CEO-level, women continue to be profoundly under-represented, reflecting the drop-off at board and senior levels.
 
Many business leaders increasingly recognise that tackling barriers to equality can unlock new opportunities for growth.
 
The top approaches businesses intend to take are: Promoting work-life balance, setting targets, measure progress, development and leadership training, and demonstrating leadership commitment.
 
Respondents perceive a wide range of rationales for making investments to promote workplace gender parity, varying with the specific situation of different industries.
 
In the ICT sector, which struggles especially with female talent shortages, companies are increasingly convinced that female participation is an opportunity for expanding their talent pool. Currently, the ICT sector recruits roughly 30% and one in 10 for senior roles.
 
Across all industries, unconscious bias among managers and lack of work-life balance are cited as the two top barriers to women’s workforce integration in the next five years, with each barrier being cited as important to 44% of employers.
 
About 36% of businesses voiced concern about the availability of qualified talent, in particular employers in the Energy, ICT and Mobility industries – these businesses were also the ones most likely to employ less women at junior level.
 
The ICT industry sees this issue as the main barrier to a more gender-balanced workforce.
 
Financial Services and Investors and Professional Services place more emphasis on women’s own aspirations as a barrier, with Professional Services seeing it as the main limiting factor for promoting women’s talent.
 
Lack of work-life balance is perceived as a particular barrier in the Consumer and Financial Services and Investors industries.
 
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Why women in the ICT industry are paid less than men

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