The Rise of AI Will Only Widen the Gender Gap in Manufacturing
For many, one of the biggest concerns when it comes to manufacturing is the rise of artificial intelligence. People in the manufacturing field worry that as AI becomes more sophisticated, it will devour all the manufacturing jobs that humans used to be needed for, leaving those humans with manufacturing skills without jobs.
This issue creates problems on both sides of the manufacturing coin, because it also means that fewer people are learning the skills required for manufacturing jobs. They believe there’s no future in the field, making the jobs that are not yet fillable by automation much harder to fill.
Another major problem in the world of manufacturing has been the gender gap. With some notable exceptions, the large majority of manufacturing jobs have always been filled by men. Some schools and manufacturing companies have made strides in recent years toward narrowing the gap a bit, but will the new trend toward automation help further close the gap or widen it?
The Problem of Gender and AI in Manufacturing
Unfortunately, it appears that the answer is the latter. Why? According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, The Future of Women at Work: Transitions in the Age of Automation, while men and women will lose jobs to automation at the same rate, women may have a much harder time finding replacement work for a number of reasons.
Women tend to be more likely to work in lower-paying occupations, either because they have less access to education or because they’re not considered for higher-paying jobs for cultural reasons. But lower-paying jobs tend to be the first eliminated in a technology shift.
Women also historically have less time to train for jobs requiring new skills, as they’re often given a larger part of childcare duties. In addition, men have more flexibility when trying to find work. For example, they will almost always be chosen over women in jobs requiring great physical strength or where there are high safety risks.
These realities hold true as much for manufacturing as anything else. When physical jobs are eliminated, men may be able to transition to whatever physical jobs remain, or they can train on a new cognitive task. Most women in manufacturing are not working at primarily physical jobs to begin with, and if their cognitive-based job is phased out, they may face heavy competition from men when trying to learn the skills needed for the cognitive-based tasks that remain.
Solutions for the Gender Gap in Manufacturing
The best way to stave off the widening of this gender gap is to help girls get into STEM programs earlier so that they can enter the workforce equipped with a variety of cognitive skills that will be useful in manufacturing. Manufacturing managers and owners should also be sensitive to the special challenges women face when it comes to the manufacturing workforce.
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