OHS and WHS: Automation trends could threaten workplace equality

Rarely a day goes by without news of digitisation, artificial intelligence and robotics impacting our workforce.

There is further concern that the industries most affected by these advancing technologies could disproportionately impact some more than others, including low-skilled workers, and women.

Roles that tend to have higher proportions of women – such as sales, business and financial operations and office and administration – are all under threat from automation.

On top of this, the industries that are expecting jobs to grow – including architecture, engineering, computers and mathematics – tend to have a lower participation rate of women. This unequal trend should be a concern to all of us.

As a CEO and father, an unequal future for women is not something I am willing to accept. Although research may be showing that women will feel the impact of automation more than others, there is nothing predestined in how technology is going to be applied – so we, as organisations, leaders and individuals, need to ensure that we are mitigating those impacts to create equal workforce opportunities for women worldwide.

Welcome to the Skills Revolution

I firmly believe that we are seeing the emergence of a Skills Revolution – where helping people upskill and adapt to advancing technology and a fast-changing world of work will be the defining challenge of our time.

In this Skills Revolution digitisation can bring great opportunities for jobs and career growth… but only to those who are ready.

We are already seeing the effects of this on our global population with a widening gap between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’. The Haves are those with the skills needed to keep pace with constant technological change.

The Have Nots are those without the skills required to stay afloat throughout these waves of digital disruption.

This polarisation of the population is happening right now and, although we cannot slow the rate of technological change our world is currently experiencing, we can invest in our employees’ skills so that people and organisations can remain relevant.

This absolute need for new skills has the ability to level the playing field for women because, regardless of gender, both men and women need new skills, and they will need them more often, to stay employable for the jobs that may not even exist yet.

Another factor to consider is that women are more educated than men across the world. In Australia alone, female graduates are outnumbering males at record levels.

Technology has the ability to facilitate learning; allowing women to build on those higher education levels and develop new skills.

At ManpowerGroup, we define ‘learnability’ as the desire and ability to learn new skills to be employable for the long term.

The value that we place on skills is already changing and employability – the ability to gain and maintain a desired job – is no longer dependent on what you already know, but on what you are likely to learn.

The gender-neutral need for new skills in today’s digitally-driven world, combined with women’s typically higher education levels, creates a new competitive advantage of optimised learnability for women to capitalise on.

Learnability just may be the real equaliser for women in the workplace.

The costs required to implement new technology into an organisation’s business model are declining as our world becomes more connected, which means the competition for businesses to innovate and automate is dramatically increasing.

Given that 65% of the jobs Generation Z will perform do not even exist yet, organisations and their leaders need to rethink their structure of work and rethink which roles can be done where, by whom or by what.

This revolution of advancing technology makes its absolutely critical for companies to be agile, and talent is now the single most important factor to that agility.

With our global population shrinking, organisations must ensure they are utilising every available talent pool – including women – to secure a digitally-prepared workforce.

In fact, the most recent ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Survey found that 38% of Australian employers are already having difficulties filling jobs due to lack of skills, experience and applicants.

When asked what strategies they are using to overcome these talent shortages, 76% of Australian employers reported that they are training and developing their existing employees in order to fill open positions.

With a talent shortage and lack of skills already in existence, educating our working women and men will be one of the fundamental tasks of CEOs and leaders in order to adapt to new levels of automation.

Now is the time for organisations and their leaders to be responsive and responsible in developing the right talent with the right skills to anticipate technological change, react faster than competitors and stay ahead of the curve.

It is no secret that I am passionate about accelerating our women leaders and creating a culture of conscious inclusion.

In these times of unprecedented change, building a diverse workforce is now more important than ever.

The major developments that we are seeing in technology can actually give women a chance to leapfrog their male co-workers and equalise workplace gender imbalances.

Learnability will be the new competitive advantage for women. With strong educational backgrounds and the need for fast-changing skills across all sectors, women are better placed now more than ever to win no matter how big the waves of digital disruption may be. 

We are quickly learning that technology can expedite the learning process and create numerous upskilling opportunities.

The more chances that women are given to learn and enhance their skills, the more the needle can shift towards achieving gender parity.

As Bridget Beattie, one of ManpowerGroup’s senior female leaders in Australia, once said: Now is the time for women to own it; now is not the time to shy away.

Women make up 50% of our workforce, and I’m always grateful for the continued contributions from our female employees.



Jonas Prising is the Chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup.

This article first appeared in womensagenda.com.au


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