Robots Are Taking Over, and Women May Be on the Front Lines

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By Genevieve Douglas

The rapid rise of automation and technology in the workplace likely will create the most chaos for women in the workforce, but soft skills and adaptability will benefit all workers as the robots take over.

A lot of the jobs being automated will be administrative positions, which have traditionally been held more by women, Rebecca Henderson, chief executive officer of staffing firm Randstad Sourceright, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 7. “Automation is going to force women to make different decisions” in their career paths, such as pursuing education in faster growing fields like science, technology, or finance, Henderson said. “We are quickly being disrupted, more painfully than men are, as a result.”

Men could face nearly 4 million job losses and 1.4 million gains in the period from 2015 to 2020, meaning approximately one job gained for every three lost, according to research from the World Economic Forum. Women, on the other hand, stand to lose 3 million jobs in the same period, and gain only 0.55 million, or more than five jobs lost for every one gained.

The changing demographics of the workforce will likely exacerbate the toll automation takes on women, Patricia Buckley, managing director for economics at Deloitte, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 7. The future workforce will continue to see an increase in the proportion of women participating, Buckley said. Additionally, the labor force participation of workers over 65 is increasing as well, meaning that automation will likely leave older women in the workforce the most vulnerable to replacement, Buckley said.

Skills to Survive Automation

In the next five to 10 years “pretty much everyone will be working with a smart machine” that might not even exist today, Jeff Schwartz, principal and global leader for human capital marketing at Deloitte, predicts.

This means that “all of us need to be thinking about skills that complement our working with technology” such as empathy, team work, creativity, and collaboration, Schwartz told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 7. “These are skills women have been traditionally good at.”

Schwartz said women have already had to prove adaptability in the workplace, being more likely than men to have nonlinear careers, juggle school and work, and enter and exit the workforce, he said. The re-skilling and training that all workers will need to adapt to increased use of technology in the workplace is a strategy many women have already pursued to remain competitive in their careers, he said.

Henderson said the advent of technology in recruitment and staffing services is a great example of how soft skills will enable women, and workers in general, to adapt and grow.

For example, there are many new advances in technology that automate “making a match” between an open position and a job candidate, but the industry has learned that humans are still essential, Henderson said.

Humans are still the best judges of whether a person is a good cultural fit for an organization, Henderson added, and so high-level jobs in the recruitment industry are increasingly going to women who can excel with these softer skill leadership roles.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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