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Women’s jobs most threatened by automation, but the future demands their skills


Canadian women hold the majority of jobs facing an “elevated threat” from automation, according to a report by RBC Economics.

The bank estimates 3.4 million positions, or about 35 per cent of all Canadian jobs, are at risk of being replaced. Women were found to make up 54 per cent of that figure due to higher numbers in fields such as administration, bookkeeping, and data-entry.

“When thinking of disruption, what comes to mind? For many, it’s a male factory worker losing his job to a robotic arm,” RBC Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist Dawn Desjardins wrote in the report. “However, automation is showing up all over the economy, not just in manufacturing. As it makes further inroads into the services sector, women face a higher risk of having their jobs displaced.”

The report argues that while women tend to work in lower-skilled, less-specialized jobs compared to men, the abilities they are honing will be highly sought-after in the future economy.

“The future of work will rely on a new mix of skills – including critical thinking, social perceptiveness, writing, and problem-solving. And it is here that women possess a notable advantage,” Desjardins wrote. “Women may be better positioned than men for the jobs of the future.”

Canadian men are more than twice as likely to work in at-risk manufacturing roles that don’t have close substitutes, the report notes, adding that more generalist skill sets will be in increasing demand as machines displace task-oriented jobs.

Desjardins found women are more likely to be in jobs that involve direct contact with the
public and social dimensions. Today, these include at-risk occupations such as receptionists, library technicians, and office clerks.

The report found occupations where general and social skills are important have grown over 33 per cent faster than the national average, while those using specific technical skills lagging behind.

However, women were found to be less represented in the best-paying and least-automatable professions, and face a higher risk of losing jobs because they are less likely to rise to senior positions than their male counterparts.

The report notes that men tend to gain management experience at an earlier age, giving them an edge in developing skills associated with organizing people and projects. For Canadians aged 25 to 29 years old, an employed man is almost twice as likely to be in a management occupation as a woman, 6.8 per cent versus 3.9 per cent.

“While we’ve argued that disruption could find women more prepared than men, we believe there’s room for smart policy to help them identify and match their skills to the jobs of the future,” Desjardins wrote.

“Much of the reskilling conversation in Canada has focused on the retraining of manufacturing workers who fall victim to well publicized plant closures. But many of the jobs that are under threat – and disproportionately held by women – disappear in silence.”

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