Why Retraining Is Key for Women in the Workforce

A new McKinsey Global Institute report indicates that automation could lead to potentially high job losses for women by 2030. To stop this, leaders and organizations must invest in training and reskilling programs.

Automation and new technology could displace tens of millions of women from the workplace in a little more than a decade. That’s according to “The Future of Women at Work,” a report released this month by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).

“Globally, 40 million to 160 million women may need to transition between occupations by 2030, often into higher-skilled roles,” the report said. “If they make these transitions, women could find more productive, better paid work; if they don’t, they could face a growing wage gap or leaving the labor market.”

MGI Senior Fellow Mekala Krishnan pointed out that women face more challenges than men when it comes to getting retrained or earning more education.

“Women face significant barriers,” Krishnan said. “Across the world, women bear most of the unpaid care responsibilities, which makes time a precious commodity. Designing reskilling programs that are accessible to women—whether that be providing childcare subsidies or utilizing flexible digital platforms—will be crucial to make sure they are able to access the same opportunities as men.”

While men will also face job disruption in the future, they are better-positioned for new jobs that will emerge in mature economies.

“We find that net job growth in mature economies may be concentrated in only two sectors: healthcare and professional, scientific, and technical services. Women are well-represented in the first, less so in the second,” Krishnan said. “… In the United States and other mature economies, women comprise 22 percent or less of tech roles. This is an opportunity where leaders can do better, creating more pathways for women to enter and remain in STEM fields.”

How Associations Can Help

While the report warns of potentially bleak outcomes, Krishnan said leaders can change the trajectory of women’s work, especially association leaders.

“Associations can play a strong role in partnering with governments, education providers, etc., to help design and implement reskilling programs,” she said. “They may be uniquely positioned to define the skills that are needed for the future and help implement reskilling programs at scale.”

The MGI report listed several strategies leaders and organizations could take to combat the displacement of female workers. Those relevant to associations include

  • training and apprenticeship programs for women
  • reskilling opportunities for midcareer women or women returning to workforce
  • industry partnerships with massive open online courses
  • technical school or university curriculums co-created with industry
  • intrafirm and cross-sector networks and mentorship opportunities for women
  • increased unconscious bias training in performance reviews and hiring practices.

Krishnan said associations will play a key role in their fields by helping professionals understand how the workplace will transform. “For many industry and professional associations, it is important to think of automation as not just displacing workers, but also radically transforming the way that most workers will spend their time,” she said. “Most workers will need to become more comfortable interacting with technology—regardless of their level of skill.”

She offered up the example of nurses. “By 2030, we find that automation could free up approximately 30 percent of nurses’ time, meaning that they could spend less time on tasks such as processing paperwork and more time interacting with patients,” Krishnan said. “But that nurse will need to be comfortable interacting with the technology that automates the paperwork itself.”

But no matter the industry, work will evolve.

“Our research finds that workers will spend more time utilizing a different set of skills than they do today—including interpersonal skills, skills like problem solving and critical thinking, and of course, technological skills,” Krishnan said.

(Hiraman/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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