Global Economy and Corporate Responsibility

Women, automation and the future of work

Women are more exposed to AI automation in the workplace compared to men. Our upcoming research project baims to specifically examine this issue.

Automation technologies hold the promise of the future of the workplace from improving worker’s efficiency, productivity, and well-being to enabling a more flexible and dynamic way of working. However, rapid advancement in these technologies not only can pose challenges to the millions of European workers, resulting in big changes in occupational demand and the risk of substitution, but also can exacerbate existing gender inequalities in the labour market.  

The idea of technological progress and possible ways of mitigating the distributive consequences of technological change, such as ‘technological unemployment’ have been widely discussed in Europe by academics, policy experts, business representatives, trade unions and public intellectuals. Some critical scholars have characterised technological progress as a harmful ideology, that despite its claims of fostering a more equitable and interconnected world, perpetuates and intensifies long-standing systems of oppression that expressed in the form of racial/gendered hierarchies or algorithmic racism.  

Policy interventions are required

Others argue that the way automation can reshare the economy and the labour market particular,  largely depends on a set of policy interventions directed towards social and collective goals: (1) compensation policies that aim to financially provide for workers displaced by technology; (2) investment policies that aim to prepare or retrain new or displaced workers with the relevant skills needed in today’s labour market; and/or (3)steering policies aim to affect the pace and direction of technological change. 

Automation can be defined as a technology concerned with performing a process by means of programmed commands combined with automatic feedback control to ensure proper execution of the instructions. Automation technologies is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of technologies, such as artificial intelligence, algorithmic decision-making systems, big data analytics and robotics. The process of automation starts with a pilot project, focusing on streamlining and workflow automation. The automation goal lies in achieving performance of tasks without or with minimised human involvement in repetitive manual tasks, tasks that are duplicated across various workflows, tasks that require unnecessary communication or time sensitive or urgent tasks. The application of automation technologies can be found practically in all sectors of economy, ranging from retail to construction.  

Large number of European workers could be replaced by automation before 2030

According to different estimates, the proportion of jobs likely to be automated can range between 22 percent and 44 percent depending on a country, while 45-60 percent of all workers in Europe could see themselves replaced by automation before 2030.  

While both women and men will increasingly face similar challenges of managing transitions across occupations, much research has concluded that women are more likely to be threatened by automation based on already gendered segregation of the labour market. 21 percent more women are exposed to AI automation than men even though men outnumber women in the workforce. This largely linked to gendered differences in work content as women across different occupational categories are somewhat more likely to undertake routine, repetitive tasks and less likely to undertake complex tasks.  

New research project by FES Future of Work

The upcoming 2024-2025 project of FES Future of Work aims to look specifically at already existing gendered vertical (women’s underrepresentation in leading and top positions) and horizontal (women’s underrepresentation in manual occupation (e.g. manufacturing, craft) and their overrepresentation in nonmanufacturing occupations) segregations of the labour market in the light of increasing and ongoing automation of workflow processes. The research output will consist of (1) the analysis of the current research in peer-review as well as grey literature publications based on the scoping review methodology and (2) case study examples. The first research outputs of the project are expected to be published on the FES Future of Work website by summer 2024.


About the author

Dr Inga Sabanova is a Policy Officer at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's Future of Work Competence Centre in Brussels. Since 2020, she has been leading projects on the platform economy and the integration of new technologies in the workplace. She has more than 10 years of experience in policy research, academia and management of multi-stakeholder projects for EU institutions.

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