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Will automation close or widen the diversity gap?

Automation now does not mean ‘man or machine’; with many new opportunities being born from the development of AI. With this, the range of effects automation is set to have on the economy varies; with predictions ranging from optimistic to devastating. McKinsey reported last year that 400 to 800 million jobs worldwide could be automated by 2030. Alongside this, a new report carried out by the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2026, 57% of the jobs set to be displaced by technology would have belonged to women.

How do we counter this? A recent Thinktank found that with reskilling, the job transition options for at-risk women rise from 12 to 49. However, for men this is significantly higher, from 22 to 80; as women make up a smaller proportion of people in high-skill occupations that are resilient to automation or complemented by technology. Hence, although promising, these figures highlight the continuation and possible exacerbation of a divide. However, they also highlight an open door; an opportunity to invest in better understanding of impacts automation will have and a change in our approach to reskilling, to close that gap.

The IT sector is likely to contribute significantly to this cause; featuring multiple times in a study by Oxford University identifying the 100 jobs least likely to be replaced. However, there is still work to be done; females currently make up only 17% of those in the UK working in technology. With IT central to business success, it is important to ensure woman are attracted and then encouraged to become a more focal point in the industry.

With automation sitting at the heart of workplace innovation it is important the approach to this technology is equally as innovative; with a McKinsey study finding that 94% of senior executives when asked cited diversity as a key accelerator of innovation.

A focus on IT and innovation will help prepare our workforce to ride the transition through to success, whilst not taking a step backwards on equality progress already made.