Women in the Firing Line of Fourth Industrial Revolution

18 Jan 2016

Oliver Cann, Head of Media Content, Public Engagement, Tel.: +41 (0)79 799 3405; Email: oca@weforum.org

· The bad news: disruptions to labour markets brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution as well as demographic and socio-economic change may have a disproportionately negative impact on women than men

· The good news: the proportion of women expected to progress to medium and senior roles by 2020 is set to rise by nearly 10%

· Almost twice as many businesses still view fairness and equality as the key drivers behind efforts to hire more women than those doing so for profits

· The World Economic Forum’s industry gender gap is the first study of its kind, representing more than 13 million employees in 9 industry sectors and 15 economies.

· Access the full report, infographics and more here. For more information about the Annual Meeting 2016, visit www.weforum.org

Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 18 January 2016 – 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, published today, 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%.

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; for example, in the Office and Administrative” job family. 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.

Another way of looking at this, according to our analysis, is to consider that, 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. And there are encouraging signs that this is already being addressed. According to our 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 organizations. 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

Female talent remains one of the most underutilized business resources, either lost through lack of progression or untapped from the onset. 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 underutilized due to barriers on the path to women’s successful workforce integration.

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 CEO-level, women continue to be profoundly under-represented, reflecting the drop-off at board and senior levels.

Many business leaders increasingly recognize 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. Our 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 1 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.

Occupation Analysis

The drivers of change propelling the Fourth Industrial Revolution will heavily disrupt some of the job families with the largest share of female employees, such as Office and Administrative roles, but also some of those with the largest female gender gap, such as Manufacturing and Production, Architecture and Engineering, and Computer and Mathematical roles.

For example, based on current trends and predictions, men will lose more than 1.7 million jobs across the Manufacturing and Production and Construction and Extraction job families, but are set to gain over 600,000 jobs in Architecture and Engineering and Computer and Mathematical functions. Women will lose only 370,000 million jobs in these two male-dominated job families but are set to gain little more than 100,000 jobs in Architecture and Engineering and Computer and Mathematical functions if current gender gap ratios persist over the 2015-2020 period.

If current industry gender gap trends persist and labour market transformation towards new and emerging roles in computer, technology and engineering-related fields continues to outpace the rate at which women are currently entering those types of jobs, women are at risk of losing out on tomorrow’s best job opportunities while aggravating hiring processes for companies due to a restricted applicant pool and reducing the diversity dividend within the company.

The Case for Cooperation

While substantially more effort will be needed, The Industry Gender Gap Report finds some encouraging signs that current trends need not continue. As traditionally male-dominated job families take on newfound importance and applications in industries that previously housed few such roles but have a strong track record of employing, retaining and leveraging female talent, the current culture may drive future recruitment efforts in new roles.

“In this age of disruption, business models can best bring in fresh thinking through leveraging all available talent and expanding the diversity of voices in their workforce,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

In order to leverage the benefits of gender diversity, companies need to take a holistic approach, starting at the top. The report finds that, across all industries, targeting female talent is increasingly perceived as a key future workforce strategy. Across industries, 25% of all companies – and nearly half of all companies that prioritize future workforce planning and are confident that they are on the right track in their approach to preparing for impending disruptive change – see this as a key focus area.

“There is a unique opportunity at present to address long-existing gender divides in the economy. If we don’t take advantage of this, we will see more gender segregation in the workforce, affecting wages and livelihoods, not to mention greater economic inequality in society as a whole”, said Saadia Zahidi, Head of the Global Challenge on Gender Parity at the World Economic Forum.

In part, this will entail businesses supplementing their current efforts to provide a more level playing field in their organizations with broader efforts to ensure that the vast pool of highly educated women – in over 100 countries women are the majority of those coming out of university – does not lose out on the opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge Initiative on Gender Parity (see below) brings together businesses and governments to collaborate on making these solutions a reality.


The Future of Jobs Survey that formed the basis of the report covers over 350 of the largest companies in the world, including over 150 of the Fortune Global 500. In addition to the individual company responses, we had over 1,300 detailed occupation-level data points on mass employment, specialist and newly emerging occupations based in specific geographic locations across these companies’ global operations. The survey respondents primarily included chief human resource officers, chief strategy officers and other senior talent and strategy executives. Our target pool of respondents comprised, as the primary selection criterion, the 100 largest global employers in each of our target industry sectors. In addition to the aggregate analysis, the report contains 15 country or regional profiles and nine industry profiles providing detailed information for each on the current situation and the 2020 outlook. There was near gender balance among our respondents.

Global Challenge Initiative on Gender Parity

The World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge Initiative on Gender Parity produces analytical tools such as the Global Gender Gap Report, the Best Practices for Gender Parity compendium and the Industry Gender Gap study to allow companies and countries to benchmark their current performance, assess their future prospects and learn from best practices. In addition, the Initiative creates public-private partnerships to close economic gender gaps in selected countries and cooperates with industries to analyse, forecast and address contextual and industry-factors contributing to persistent gender gaps, working closely with multistakeholder communities of leaders and experts dedicated to closing gender gaps.

Partners of the Global Challenge Initiative on Gender Parity are: Alghanim Industries, A.T. Kearney, Bank of America, Bloomberg, Hubert Burda Media, Centene Corporation, The Coca-Cola Company, EY, Heidrick & Struggles, JLL, Johnson Controls Inc., ManpowerGroup, Old Mutual, Omnicom, Ooredoo, PwC, Renault-Nissan Alliance, Takeda Pharmaceutical, and Tupperware Brands Corporation.

Over 2,500 leaders from business, government, international organizations, civil society, academia, media and the arts will participate in the 46th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on 20-23 January. Under the theme, Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the programme comprises over 250 sessions, of which over 100 will be webcast live.

Taking a formative role in shaping the discussion at the Annual Meeting 2016 as the Co-Chairs are: Mary Barra, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, General Motors, USA; Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Brussels; Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer, Microsoft Corporation, USA; Hiroaki Nakanishi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Hitachi, Japan; Tidjane Thiam, Chief Executive Officer, Credit Suisse, Switzerland; and Amira Yahyaoui, Founder and Chair, Al Bawsala, Tunisia.

Notes to Editors

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Learn about the Forum’s Gender Parity Global Challenge Initiative here

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All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.

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