There are considerable differences in pay, employment levels, and the types of activities that men and women perform in the workplace.
If predictions are right, automation will transform work as we know it. But it’s difficult to know exactly which – and how many – jobs will be affected. Although there is a huge debate over just these questions, one area frequently overlooked is how automation will affect the prospect of gender equality.
Right now, there are considerable differences in pay, employment levels, and the types of activities that men and women perform in the workplace. As women are often expected to take more responsibility for care at home, there are fewer job opportunities. This is because the current job market lacks the flexibility needed by women who are expected to juggle caring and working responsibilities. These biases will lead to a future of work that remains unequal. Where bias goes in, bias comes out.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. Male and female roles and identities are constructed – not fixed – and so the future distribution of work is not fixed either. If jobs get scarcer while productivity increases, we need to ask how the rewards are going to be shared and we need to rethink the structures of employment and the forms of work before it’s too late. Here are some alternatives for shaping a more gender equal society.
Less working time
While studies paint a fairly dismal picture of a world where there is less demand for workers, they don’t consider working time. If automation increases productivity, the average working week could be radically reduced, creating more free time for all. Of course, if we are to enjoy increased leisure time, we still need to earn a decent wage. So any reduction in working hours shouldn’t mean a reduction in salary.
Given that part-time and low-paid workers are predominantly female a reduced working week with a decent salary could enable a more equal distribution of wage work. Rather than revert to the norm of men earning a family wage while women care for family members, more free time for both women and men could create the conditions necessary for a more equal sharing of care.
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