Robots will aggravate gender labor gap, IDB study finds


According to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), 21% of women workers require support for the transition to a new job, compared to 19% of men. "Behind these average figures, however, there are differences between countries," the document clarifies.

Robots will aggravate gender labor gap, IDB study finds. Image: Pexels
Robots will aggravate gender labor gap, IDB study finds. Image: Pexels

The Fourth Industrial Revolution "represents a great challenge for the labor market," especially for women, says Monserrat Bustelo, senior specialist in the IDB's Gender and Diversity Division. "But there are also many opportunities," she adds.

Bustelo coordinated the research. What will the labor market be like for women? This is the new installment in the series The Future of Work in Latin America and the Caribbean, in which the IDB has described how new technologies are changing jobs and forcing the development of new skills.

Men have a greater advantage in the skills demanded by new technologies. On the other hand, "women are lagging behind in digital, quantitative and mathematical skills. And we do more routine activities that are more replaceable," she says in an interview from Washington.

This has to do with two moments of segregation in women's lives: work and school. In the workplace, a gender division of labor still prevails. Thirty percent of them have jobs linked to areas of care: health, education and domestic service, while only 6% of men are dedicated to these sectors.

Only three out of every 10 workers in science, mathematics or computer science are women. The fact that they dedicate themselves less to repetitive tasks and are "more involved in sectors that require management and communication skills, which are the skills of the 21st century", means that, at the same time, they develop more of the skills that automation requires.

In general, the labor participation rate of women in Latin America is one of the lowest in the world: about 58%, for men it is 82 percent. In addition, they earn between 5 and 30% less than their peers with the same level of education, age, marital status and area of residence.

One of the main challenges facing women workers "is the cultural expectation about their role as primary caregivers. Women in the region devote more than 38 hours to these unpaid tasks, their male peers 16 hours.

That time increases if they have children under the age of five. Of the Latin American countries, Mexico is worse off. Mexican women almost double the average number of hours, which is 33, because they spend about 60 hours a week taking care of someone.

Education, the first filter

The other moment of segregation actually comes before work, it's school. Women already account for 60% of technical and university graduates. But in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (CTIM) they are only 30% of the graduates, according to Bustelo's research, in which Agustina Suaya and Mariana Viollaz, consultants from the IDB's Gender and Diversity Division, also participated.

"I've interviewed teenagers to try to understand why they don't want to study those careers," says Adriana Islas Molinar, Estafeta's director of information technology, in an interview. She discovered that there is a belief that engineering is boring or there is little social contact.

The Electronic Systems Engineer at Tec de Monterrey belongs to the Women in IT (WIT) group of the multinational Dell, and to Microsoft's Women Leaders in Information Technology. Shortly before participating in these initiatives, even when he began to integrate, he believed they were not necessary.

In the area of technology there are very few women and many fewer in management positions, she recognized after a while. Then, "I realized that the luck I had had when I was in a company where I was not hindered because I was a woman, was not that of others and that a lot of support was required.

Training is the key

In Estafeta they are developing technology "to do more with less". The director of IT assures that there will be no layoffs, because they are training people who did "repetitive tasks to be more strategic and take care of other things. Islas acknowledges that many positions will be automated, "but that has happened in every technological revolution. Certain kinds of work disappear to become other kinds of activities.

The good news is that, unlike the others, this one requires diversity more than ever. "We have to be innovative to create products and services that make sense to the majority of the population. For that, a plurality of thought is needed, "because if not, you will cover only a portion of the users.

Monserrat Bustelo, the senior specialist in the IDB's Gender and Diversity Division, points to another piece of good news: the trend of employment growth in the education and health sectors, "where women are well represented.

That's for the future, he says, in the present, we need to improve their remuneration, their access to social security and their perspective of job growth. In order to achieve this, there is no single solution; collective actions by the State and companies are needed. And those actions include childcare systems, parental leave, and labor flexibility for both.