World Economic Forum: Women could still lose out in the economy of the future

The gender gap could widen in the economy of the future according to a World Economic Forum report published as global business and political leaders gathered for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Among the topics discussed at the meeting was the economy and society of the future. The WEF suggested that we are embarking on a Fourth Industrial Revolution which it said would be characterised by ‘a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.’ However, in this future, the WEF in its Future of Jobs Report, suggests that women may still lose out.

Both men and women are likely to lose jobs as part of the technological changes of this latest industrial revolution the WEF said 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 WEF said that as women make up a smaller share of the workforce today’s economic gender gap could widen further than the current 40%.

Women are likely to be hit by job losses in areas of work that they dominate such as office and administrative jobs. At the same time they are currently under-represented in areas of work where jobs opportunities could increase in the next five years such as computer and mathematical jobs and architecture and engineering jobs. The WEF said that given women’s low participation in the science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) 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 types of job, whereas the ratio for men is one new job for every four lost elsewhere.

The WEF said that 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.

However, the WEF analysis suggests that there will be a growing proportion of women in higher level positions in companies. According to the WEF 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 report is based on analysis of the WEF’s Future of Jobs Survey that covers over 350 of the largest companies in the world, including over 150 of the Fortune Global 500 as well as data on mass employment, specialist and newly emerging occupations based in specific geographic locations across these companies’ global operations.

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