Technological advances will make gender pay divide even wider

Whilst at the currency exchange counter at the airport a few months ago, rather than buying currency, I took out the pre-paid Travelex card, following a great sales pitch from the person that was serving me. On leaving, the customer service assistant thanked me pleasantly, smiled and excitedly told me that now that I had the card, I wouldn’t have to see them again, but I don’t think she realised the implications of her words.

Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 10:42 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 10:46 am
Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Being able to put foreign currency on a card online means that I will no longer have to visit the currency exchange counter at an airport ever again. Not only that, it also means the thousands of people that pass through the airport each day won’t need to visit one either. This will make the customer service assistant’s role redundant.

Last year the Centre for Cities reported that 20 per cent of jobs will be lost to automation and globalisation by 2030, with northern cities impacted the most. Not only that, according to PwC, women will be the first to be hit. Women are already adversely affected by the gender pay gap, and with this predicted level of job losses, it’s women who will be hard hit yet again.

The beginning of this month saw the second year of gender pay gap reporting, where organisations with more than 250 employees have to report to the government on the difference in pay between their men and women employees. However, despite the reporting (and guidance given as to how the gap can be reduced) having been introduced, analysis by the BBC found that the discrepancy in pay actually increased in favour of men in 45 per cent of organisations.

A comparison of some of Sheffield’s employers on the government pay gap comparison website shows that on average, men earn more than women at the majority of organisations. Because the pay gap is indicative that women occupy more junior positions, this is a cause for concern. Not just because of the pay disparity, but also because it is the more junior, low skilled positions that will be lost to artificial intelligence and automation.

These are the jobs that are more likely to have part time roles. Considering more women than men work part time, the effect of this will be an increase in the gender pay gap as these jobs disappear due to artificial intelligence and we see even less women than men in the workplace. It is retail jobs, customer service roles and warehouse positions that are among those most at threat. It was only recently that we heard that almost 2,500 shops had disappeared from 500 high streets in the UK during 2018, because people are increasingly shopping online.

It’s not all doom and gloom because whilst artificial intelligence will see a host of jobs disappear, we will also see new and different types of roles created. If we look back over the past 30 years, we have seen significant changes in the world of work. Technology and the internet have totally changed the way we live and work, and during this time many jobs have disappeared, but at the same time, a host of new ones have been created. And so it will be regarding jobs lost to AI and automation. Technology will replace routine tasks, but people will still be needed for higher skilled roles, and there will be an increasing need for soft skills. What we don’t want however is for those who have been displaced not be skilled to do work that will then be available. Organisations need to plan for how they will reskill and upskill their workforce. Individuals need to adopt an attitude of lifelong learning so that they remain relevant in the ever changing world of work. In 2016 the World Economic Forum identified the top 10 skills that will be required in 2020 as complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, co-ordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility. Women should think about developing these skills.

The government recently issued new guidance to help employers close the gender pay gap. But what use is reporting and guidance if there are no sanctions in place for non-compliance?

We also need to look wider than just addressing the gender pay gap and look at the trajectory for men and women way before they enter the workplace. Such as encouraging more girls to study subjects that will lead to higher skilled roles and that have been typically male dominated.

Should we be concerned about the impact of artificial intelligence on the gender pay gap? Yes, we should.

Alarm bells should be going off in our minds so that we are aware of the potential problems that could await us.