3 million women in the UK need to transition to new jobs by 2030

12 July 2019 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

More than 3 million women working in the UK are forecast to need to transition to new jobs in the coming decade, as digital disruption ramps up amid Britain’s rapidly automating markets. With higher paid, white collar jobs largely still dominated by men, women remain disproportionately concentrated in more repetitive administrative roles, which are particularly in line for automation.

In spite of multiple calls from political, economic and societal experts to promote the inclusion of women in business, the future of many women in the workforce is uncertain. While businesses can benefit significantly from a more diverse workforce, progress towards that end goal remains slow, even in allegedly pro-active sectors. Over the last 20 years, the consulting industry has hired women at the third fastest rate of any industry in the UK economy. While its female headcount has improved by more than 190% in that time, however, the proportion of women in the industry has decreased by 5%.

The fact women still remain the minority in the economy’s most lucrative industries looks set to see them subject to major disruption in the coming years, meanwhile. Digital transformation efforts mean a growing number of jobs are in line to be restructured, or entirely replaced by technology in coming years. Jobs in admin, and other repetitive forms of office work, are set to be decimated as a result, impacting women – who are more numerous in such industries – significantly more than their male counterparts.

Women make up a high share of clerical support and service roles, which could be subject to significant job displacement from automationNow, a new study from the McKinsey Global Institute has found that millions of women in the UK may soon need to transition between occupations and into higher-skilled jobs, due to automation. According to the study, on top of the economic upheaval this realignment will cause, those transitions could be challenging, and may ultimately further deplete the UK’s female workforce, at least in the short-term.

First and foremost, this is because Britain has a material gender tech gap. The researchers found that among first-year full-time students in higher education, only 13% of women studied science subjects in 2016–17, compared with 37% of men. Only 15% of employees in the UK tech industry are female, a figure far lower than 22% in the US and 21% in Singapore. This means if the UK is to strengthen its economy post-Brexit with a technology boom, as the Government often says is the case, then the UK will need to fully close this gap – something which could boost GDP by an estimated $124 billion, or a 5% increase.

McKinsey’s report suggests that to enhance women’s participation in tech, three imperatives should be tackled by businesses and the Government. The UK must attract female talent into tech careers and roles; maximise the impact and success of female tech talent in companies; and build a more inclusive image for tech in society.

Job displacement from automation

The problem with this, however, is that it largely addresses the workforce of tomorrow, and arguably will do little to assist the millions of women already in the workforce, about to be cut adrift by the rapidly digitalising market. Of the 3.4 million job losses anticipated for women due to digitalisation, a quarter will be in clerical support, while a third will be in service, shop, and market sales work.

Big transition

Government figures from the end of 2018 (admittedly these will have shifted with growing employment, but not by much) saw 15.3 million women in the UK aged 16 and over were in employment. The female employment rate was 71.4%, which is the highest it has been since comparable records began in 1971, however, the male employment rate was 80.3%. More men were therefore still in work than women, meaning that while job displacement from automation looks numerically to be similar, it will be proportionally worse for women.

Demand for jobs in 2030, assuming constant female land male share of employment in sectors and occupations

In global terms, this is a realignment rather than a reduction in the need for labour. Women will also gain opportunities for new roles, most prominently in the healthcare and professional services sectors of mature economies. According to McKinsey, before factoring in potential job losses, women could expand their current employment by 20% across the world, compared to 19% for men.

The problem for the UK, however, is that men and women both stand to boost their employment by 17%. In both cases, McKinsey suggests that amounts to 3 million full-time jobs, and while the figure is rounded, that is still likely to be fewer than are displaced by automation. As a result, addressing the tech gap for women in or out of the workforce may prove to be just the tip of the ice-berg, and the true challenge may simply prove to be providing adequate support to those looking for work.

This would not be the first time that reports into the potential of automation have alluded to fewer jobs being created than being displaced. Previously McKinsey projected that 5% of jobs could be entirely replaced by technology, while over 60% of all work activities could be in some manner automated by 2055. Big Four consultancy PwC meanwhile calculated that as many as 30% of jobs in Britain and 38% in America could be automated by 2030, and even more drastically, analysis from Joblift argued the technology may only replace 19% of the jobs it takes.