Report outlines ways to mitigate gender inequality in automation age

A new report from the IPPR says gender inequality could be widened in an age of automation unless concerted effort is taken now.

Image of people at work in the background with technology overlay indicating techposter syndrome


Twice as many women as men work in occupations with a high potential for automation and 64 per cent of jobs in these occupations are held by women,meaning automation could increase gender inequality, according to a report by the IPPR think tank.

It finds nine per cent of women work in occupations which are highly likely to be automated, compared to four per cent of men. Immigrants to the UK and lone parents are also more likely to suffer. However, despite the risk that automation could increase gender inequalities, the report argues that it does not have to be bad for women if steps are taken, such as increasing retraining and returner opportunities for carers and making flexible working a default option. A bill on default flexible working in new jobs is being heard in Parliament today.

The Future is Ours report says automation could increase productivity and enable higher pay in currently low-paid roles dominated by women. It could also create new jobs that could provide high-quality opportunities for women to take up. It could allow more time for life outside of the workplace, which could relieve women of the ‘double shift’ of paid and unpaid work that many face and rebalance unpaid work between genders. However, it warns that “a more gender-equal future will not happen spontaneously”.

To manage change in a positive way the report sets out four ways to ensure this. The include accelerating automation to increase productivity and sharing both quantity- and quality-driven productivity gains with workers through higher pay. It say the voices and leadership of women and other workers “should be central to a managed acceleration of automation”. To do this would require legislation to require a 50:50 male/female split on boards by 2025 and a requirement for all large companies to have two elected employees on their board and remuneration committee; the creation of a new body with a strategic focus on low-paid sectors including those that disproportionately employ women; and a rise in the minimum wage.

Other recommendations include more bank holidays, a requirement to include share options in pay gap reporting, extending automatic pension enrolment to the lower paid and the creation of a Citizens’ Wealth Fund to ensure that everyone can benefit from increasing returns to capital even if not in formal, paid work.

The report also calls for:

  • Support for carers to retrain, including 30 hours free childcare entitlement for people who are studying and a returners programme for women re-entering the labour market to work with tech.
  • Stronger legislation to ensure good jobs are accessible, through ‘use-it-orlose-it’ paternity leave, a requirement for all jobs to be advertised as flexible by default and requirements on tech firms to demonstrate progress to gender-equal workforces.
  • A requirement for schools, FE institutions and universities to report gender balance at GCSE and A-Level subject choices and fines for universities for failing to achieve reasonable gender balance in STEM subjects.
  • Regulatory power for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to inspect audit trails of how anti-discrimination measures have been built in from the design stage and to assess how the 2010 Equality Act could be strengthened to provide protection against discriminatory practices perpetuated by algorithmic or data bias.

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