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Automation could throw millions of women out of work

How automation could impact women's jobs
  • As many as 160 million women globally might find their work displaced by automation by 2030.
  • McKinsey Global Institute projects nearly a quarter of American women may lose their current jobs. 
  • Clerical and retail sales positions often filled by women are among the jobs viewed as vulnerable.

If robots are coming for our jobs, women as well as men should be boning up on new skills to stay employed. As many as 160 million women around the world may have to find another way to earn a paycheck by 2030, new research on the impact of automation suggests. 

In the U.S., nearly a quarter of women employed now may find their livelihood upended by advances in technology during the coming decade, according to the study by McKinsey Global Institute. While male-dominated manufacturing jobs are usually seen as endangered by new technology, the report's authors envision female-dominated occupations changing as a result of artificial intelligence.  

Schedulers, bookkeepers and secretaries could all feel the impact as clerical tasks become more automated, given that women fill 72% of those positions in advanced economies, McKinsey found. Service industries are also vulnerable, and women make up large percentages of retail and food service workers.

In looking at the world's 10 biggest economies -- including the top two, the U.S. and China -- McKinsey found that 107 million jobs females now hold could be automated by 2030, affecting 20% of working women. In the U.S., the study found automation threatens 24% of female jobs and 26% of male jobs. 

In the mature economies studied, researchers found 15% of machine operators and more than 70% of clerical workers to be female, while in emerging economies, 25% of machine operators and more than 40% of clerical workers were women.

Jobs of the future

The researchers did find reason for optimism. They project 171 million new female-dominated jobs will be created by 2030, with women likely to hold most of the jobs in health care. 

The McKinsey study said females would be wise to learn new skills and get more comfortable with technology to ease their way into the jobs of the future. McKinsey's findings echo that of another study, by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which concluded that while females represent about 47% of the U.S. workforce, they account for 58% of those working in industries at the highest risk for automation.