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Robots are the future. Will automation at the workplace mean more trouble for women in a world that is already grappling with a gender gap?
The development of robotics, 3D printing, easy replication and distribution of digital content, makes this an exciting time to live in. Yet, every revolution has it’s down sides, and so does this one.
According to this article machines are likely to take over 47% of today’s jobs within a few decades. The sudden increase in unemployment is going to cause a lot of disruption. This comes at a time when women are finally making some advances in closing in the gender pay gap. Are all the efforts to improve opportunities and working conditions for women going to be wasted because machines will take over?
There is no stopping progress, so the best thing to do is to understand it. So that one can be prepared and make the most of it.
Machines, even smart ones, are best suited to do repetitive or specialized tasks or jobs that require following a well defined set of rules.
We have already seen ATMs replace tellers and automatic check out kiosks. Many of us use software instead of accountants to do our taxes. We have replaced watchmen and reduced security personnel by using effective alarm systems and electronic monitoring. But we can soon expect clerks, market research analysts, telemarketers, restaurant dishwashers, meter readers, to be replaced by automation.
Fine arts, cutting edge research, fashion designing and other jobs that require high creative input, are not likely to be automated anytime soon. Neither is writing fiction or opinion pieces.
Nursing, child care, therapy, social work requires high levels of personal interaction and social skills that cannot be automated in the near future.
Cleaning houses, event planning, gourmet cooking, surgery, etc that require general intelligence and flexibility of thought and action are not currently suited to automation.
This paper contains a long list of jobs and the probability of their automation in the near future.
Although many societies have worked towards gender neutrality and equality in the last two centuries, there remains a gender preference in most professions. For example nurses are more commonly female and construction workers are more commonly male.
Jobs that require significant physical strength and mid level dexterity, like tree cutting and trimming and some aspects of construction work tend to be male dominated and are likely to be automated.
Even high paid, cerebral, male dominated jobs like commodity traders are not too far off from being replaced by sophisticated computer programs.
On the other hand female dominated jobs like nursing, child care, public relations, counseling, human resource managing, social work that require high social skills are in little danger of automation.
Waiting on tables is another female dominated job. While automation will make most fast food employees redundant, waiting tables will still be essential in upscale restaurants and gourmet food joints.
Of course the divide is not so clean. Software development, computing and STEM jobs, that are going to have high value in times of automation, are male dominated. Surgery too is a male dominated profession, but the gender gap is closing.
Large scale automation in India is not likely to happen as early as it will in some western countries. Labor in India is relatively cheap resulting in less incentive to make large investments for automation. But as a result of globalization, India has been rapidly adopting gadgets and technological advances made in the west. So Indian women probably have a little more time to prepare for the age of automation which will eventually be here.
Given the casual attitude to traffic laws and poor road conditions even in some of the metropolises, it will probably be a while before self driving cars are feasible in India. But driving is a male dominated profession that will eventually take a hit.
In contrast, cooks and baby sitters, which are female dominated jobs, are not likely to be automated. Although, most middle class households possess washing machines and vacuum cleaners, they do not effectively replace the diverse functions of the cleaning lady.
I imagine, in India too, jobs requiring physical strength and manual dexterity are male dominated while many jobs requiring social skills are female dominated. But I came across an interesting article that says that 30% of programmers in India are female compared with 21% in the US. This is encouraging, because of the emerging importance of the computing and STEM fields in times of automation.
Women in India can prepare themselves for the age of automation by focusing on creative fields or pursuing careers that require high social skills where they already seem to have a statistical advantage. More women can try to get in to STEM fields where they are still a minority (in spite of the ratios being better than the US).
In the past most office and industry jobs were male dominated. Women had to force their way in against social inertia and a hostile workplace environment. But with the advent of large scale automation, there are going to be many changes in the work place.
Women can use this opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the reallocation and establish themselves as a valuable part of the modern work place on an equal footing with men. Women may also feel more confident in working with men as more men take up traditionally female dominated jobs that survive automation.
We need to help our kids develop skills that will serve them well in the future that may be heavily automated. There was a time, when good handwriting and memory were of utmost importance. While these are still good things to develop, their importance has diminished with easy access to printed documents and a plethora of information at our finger tips.
Today’s parents and educators need to stimulate and encourage creativity and social skills. School curriculum needs to be designed to help develop generalized intelligence, resourcefulness and a diverse skill set. That way we can equip our kids to make the most of the automation and computerization that the future will offer.
Image source: woman at work by Shutterstock.
Kanika G, a physicist by training and a mother of 2 girls, started writing to
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