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Women face greater robot risk for job losses, Davos report finds

  • Jeff Green
  • Bloomberg
  • January 23 2018, 6:30am EST

(Bloomberg) -- Women are more likely than men to be knocked out of their U.S. jobs by automation in the next eight years, and they’ll find half as many opportunities to land new positions unless there’s a new effort to retrain them.

Those conclusions, from a study released Monday at the World Economic Forum, show about 57 percent of the 1.4 million U.S. jobs to be disrupted by technology between now and 2026 are held by women. With proper retraining, most of the workers would find new, higher-paying jobs. Without it, very few have opportunities, but women fare the worst, according to the study, conducted in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group. Making the transition will be expensive and difficult, the authors said.

“It is definitely unprecedented, the effort that would be required on the part of policy makers,” said Saadia Zahidi, one of the authors and head of education, gender and work for the World Economic Forum, which is holding its annual forum this week in Davos, Switzerland. “What is different today, is that businesses also do recognize that it’s something that would be useful for them.”

Workers are bracing for a future where it’s estimated each industrial robot displaces six employees and 30 percent of banking jobs could disappear within five years as artificial intelligence gets smarter. Much of the worst disruption will affect lower-paying jobs often held by women or less educated workers. The World Economic Forum now estimates it will take a century for women to reach gender parity in the workplace, almost 20 years longer than it forecast a year ago.

Businesses leaders are becoming more aware of their need to take a leadership role in fixing the gap, Zahidi said. At the same time, it will be a complicated problem to fix because it requires an entire new educational focus as well as a likely need for income support for workers being retrained, she said.

Without retraining, a quarter of the workers face annual income losses of about $8,600 and many would not be able to find a new jobs, compared with a gain of $15,000 for most workers after two years of retraining -- with about 95 percent having a new position available, according to the report. The study was based on data from Burning Glass Technologies and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One positive for women: under the retraining scenario, women’s wages would increase 74 percent while men’s income would rise 53 percent, having a potential for narrowing the pay gap, she said.

The study looked at 15 different job strategies that could pave the way for professions as diverse as assembly line workers, truck drivers, secretaries and cashiers for finding new careers. While the report found that 90,000 manufacturing jobs, predominantly held by men, are at risk for disruption, there are about 164,000 at risk female secretaries and administrative assistants who are often overlooked.

“A lot of the narrative around job losses and re-skilling in the U.S. tends to focus around male, blue-collar, factory and mining workers, but in fact, there are a lot of women in a lot of those disrupted jobs,” Zahidi said. “So there is a quite a lot of discrepancy in terms of the public narrative and what’s actually happening in the data. There is this possibility of blind spots.”

Bloomberg News