Education and Skills

Here's why women should be more concerned by the robot revolution than men

Women work on an assembly line manufacturing toy cars at a factory in Xingtai, Hebei province, China November 9, 2018. Picture taken November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. - RC1B3BB5AFB0

We must understand the impact of these trends on women’s lives. Image: REUTERS/Stringer

Era Dabla-Norris
Deputy Director, Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Education and Skills?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Education is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Book Overview: Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The way we work is changing at an unprecedented rate. Digitalization, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are eliminating many jobs involving low and middle-skill routine tasks through automation.

Our new research finds the trend toward greater automation will be especially challenging for women.

More than ever, women will need to break the glass ceiling.

On average, women face an 11 percent risk of losing their jobs due to automation, compared to 9 percent of their male counterparts. So while many men are losing their jobs to automation, we estimate that 26 million women’s jobs in 30 countries are at high risk of being displaced by technology within the next 20 years. We find that women’s jobs have a 70 percent or higher probability of automation. This translates globally to 180 million women’s jobs.

We must understand the impact of these trends on women’s lives if we are to gain gender equity in the work place.

What policies can countries implement now to ensure that women contribute to the economy, while moving toward greater automation?

Women at higher risk

Hard-won gains from policies to increase the number of women in the paid workforce and to increase women’s pay to equal men’s may be quickly eroded if women work predominantly in sectors and occupations that are at high risk of being automated.

Women who are 40 and older, and those in clerical, service, and sales positions are disproportionately at risk.Nearly 50 percent of women with a high school education, or less, are at high risk of their jobs being automated, compared to 40 percent of men. The risk for women with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 1 percent.

The chart below shows how the automation of jobs effects people in different countries. Men and women in the United Kingdom and the United States face about the same amount of risk for job automation. In Japan and Israel, women’s jobs are more vulnerable to automation than men’s. Women’s jobs in Finland are less vulnerable to automation than men’s.

Opportunities and challenges

Women are currently underrepresented in fields experiencing job growth, such as engineering and information and communications technology. In tech, women are 15 percent less likely than men to be managers and professionals, and 19 percent are more likely to be clerks and service workers performing more routine tasks, which leaves women at a high risk of displacement by technology.

More than ever, women will need to break the glass ceiling. Our analysis shows that differences in routineness of job tasks exacerbate gender inequality in returns to labor. Even after taking into account such factors as differences in skill, experience and choice of occupation, nearly 5 percent of the wage gap between women and men is because women perform more routine job tasks. In the US this means women forfeit $26,000 in income over the course of their working life.

There are some bright spots. In advanced and emerging economies, which are experiencing rapid aging, jobs are likely to grow in traditionally female-dominated sectors such as health, and social services―jobs requiring cognitive and interpersonal skills and thus less prone to automation. Coping with aging populations will require both more human workers and greater use of artificial intelligence, robotics, and other advanced technologies to complement and boost productivity of workers in healthcare services.

Have you read?

Policies that work

Governments need to enact policies that foster gender equality and empowerment in the changing landscape of work:

Provide women with the right skills. Early investment in women in STEM fields, like the program Girls Who Codein the US, along with peer mentoring, can help break down gender stereotypes and increase women in scientific fields. Tax deductions for training those already in the workforce, like in the Netherlands, and portable individual learning accounts, like in France, could help remove barriers to lifelong learning.Close gender gaps in leadership positions. Providing affordable childcare and replacing family taxation with individual taxation, like in Canada and Italy, can play an important role in boosting women’s career progression. Countries can set relevant recruitment and retention targets for organizations, as well as promotion quotas, like in Norway, and establish mentorship and training programs to promote women into managerial positions.Bridge the digital gender divide. Governments have a role to play through public investment in capital infrastructure and ensuring equal access to finance and connectivity, like in Finland.Ease transitions for workers.Countries can support workers as they change jobs because of automation with training and benefits that are linked to individuals rather than jobs, like the individual training accounts in France and Singapore. Social protection systems will need to adapt to the new forms of work. To address deteriorating income security associated with rapid technological change, some countries may consider expansion of non-contributory pensions and adoption of basic income guarantees may be warranted.

Automation has made it even more urgent to step up efforts to level the playing field between men and women, so that all have equal opportunities to contribute to, and benefit from, the new more technology-enabled world.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Education and SkillsJobs and the Future of WorkEmerging TechnologiesEconomic GrowthFourth Industrial RevolutionEquity, Diversity and InclusionGeo-Economics and Politics
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How focused giving can unlock billions and catapult women’s wealth

Mark Muckerheide

May 21, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum