Digitalization can help create greater gender equality. Moreover, the digital age will provide more workplace opportunities for women than for men. But the right policies need to be in place so that women can take advantage of these improved opportunities.
Women could be the big winners in the coming digital age because their interpersonal skills are frequently better than men’s. Social skills, such as empathy and leadership ability, will be crucial in the labor market of the future, since it will not be possible to replace these skills with artificial intelligence in the foreseeable future. That is the conclusion reached by economists Alina Sorgner, Christiane Krieger-Boden, and Eckhardt Bode from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy in a study for the G20 engagement group Women 20. The study examines the effects of digitalization on gender equality in the 20 most important industrial and emerging countries (G20).
The authors warn, however, that the G20 needs to make the right decisions now in order to enable women to leverage the opportunities offered by digitalization. “Otherwise, the reverse effect could occur, with gender inequalities growing as a result of digitalization,” said Sorgner.
Within the G20, the authors found that while 40 to 60 percent of all jobs are vulnerable to digitalization, this risk is on average lower for women’s jobs than men’s jobs. This is particularly true in the low-wage sector, where typical male occupations, such as machine operator, are more at risk from robots than roles typically performed by women, such as those in the caring professions. High-skilled jobs are also less threatened, but women tend to be underrepresented in this area.
Managers and highly qualified STEM workers (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) will be in greater demand in the labor market as a result of digitalization. These jobs will increasingly require a combination of highly developed analytical and creative skills, typically obtained through a university education, and strong social skills. In order for women to be able to fully exploit their superior social skills, the G20 countries need to provide them with better access to university education. In addition, they should ensure that women are no longer discriminated against when executive-level positions are being filled, the researchers say.
Digitalization will also create many new entrepreneurial opportunities. The authors criticize the fact that the start-up scene in the G20 countries is largely dominated by men and that women find it more difficult to make contact with key players and obtain funding. The G20 therefore needs to support web-based instruments and online networks for women targeted at nurturing their entrepreneurial skills and facilitating access to mentors. Increased use of digital technologies, e.g., in financial services, would provide women with better access to start-up capital.
“Given their social skills, women are actually better equipped to cope with competition from robots in the labor market than men are. The areas that will particularly benefit from digitalization, however, are also those where women face the greatest discrimination. The G20 therefore urgently needs to overcome the gender discrimination of the analog age so that women can achieve their full potential in the digital age,” said Sorgner.
In addition, the authors call for improved access for women to digital technology and the Internet in poorer areas and in developing and emerging countries. Online platforms offer many women the chance to avoid existing discrimination in accessing information, education, and jobs.
The study is published jointly by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and Women20 and is supported by the Emerging Market Sustainability Dialogues (EMSD), the "Global Implementation Partner" of the W20.
Women20 (W20) is the official G20 dialogue focussing on women’s economic empowerment. W20 joins the global experiences of women’s civil society organizations, women’s entrepreneur associations and academia. W20 Germany is jointly organised by the National Council of German Women’s Organizations (Deutscher Frauenrat) and the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs (Verband deutscher Unternehmerinnen, VdU). More on www.w20-germany.org.
EMSD is a network of change agents and decision makers from think tanks, multinational corporations, as well as the financial sector and W20’s global Implementation Partner. Our members jointly develop and implement solutions for sustainable economic development in emerging economies through consultation, dialogue, and research. We bring these solutions into national and international fora, contributing to the global sustainability transition and the protection of global public goods.