Our world is becoming automated; it’s a fact of our present and future reality. Self-driving vehicles are already in use within the construction, mining and nuclear industries; the logistics and supply chain sector largely relies on robotics and warehouse management systems, and even Cadillac is now offering virtual reality test drives for customers in showrooms.
According to McKinsey & Company, 45 percent of work activities could be automated and 60 percent of occupations could have one-third or more of their associated responsibilities replaced by robots. For a while now, research scientists, think tanks, economists and consultancies have deliberated over the potential effects of robots and automation on the existing and future workforce.
The typical argument has been that while certain jobs would be replaced, the automation world would also create new employment such as a higher demand for electronic engineers and the like. However, the fact remains that many of the jobs created would be in industries that women and minorities already have disproportionate representation in and typically have a hard time breaking into.
While the wider integration of robots into the industry will certainly be a catalyst for more productivity and improved workplace efficiency, it is suspected that automation will widen the pay gap for women and minorities.
How Robots Will Make The Pay Gap Worse
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has published a report on the advantages and disadvantages of adopting robots into the workplace. It is estimated that in the UK, automation could boost productivity from 0.8 percent to 1.4 percent annually, meaning a GDP increase of ten percent by 2030 and that as a result, $390 billion in wages could be automated.
“If automation leads to lower average wages or working hours or loss of jobs in aggregate, a significant amount of national income could be transferred from labor to capital.” However, what this also means is that the adoption of robots may push out women and minorities who occupy a significant proportion of lower-wage jobs.
Why Is There A Pay Gap?
The World Economic Forum not long ago predicted that it would take an estimated 217 years to shut the internationally experienced economic gender gap. While inequality and discrimination still exist in the workplace in terms of differing pay for the same job, the widening pay gap is largely due to the fact that women are more likely to work for free, be out of work and are more likely to work in industry sectors offering lower-paid work.
However, these points also reflect the fact that women are simply not offered the same opportunities in terms of university mentorship, workplace promotions or multi-board directorship. As a result, women are less likely to be in high-paid upper-management roles.
What Can Be Done?
Robots already make the lives of many in the industry easier and make sure that dangerous jobs are now handled by machines, work is carried out more accurately and efficiently, labor costs can be converted directly into capital, and that productivity is boosted. However, while automation does indeed allow for the creation of jobs, they are typically higher-paid roles for which the occupiers of the replaceable automatable jobs would not have a great chance at being given the opportunity to occupy.
This could potentially increase tensions between the voting populations and give rise to more fervent lobbying to increase the minimum wage. However, that in itself could create issues, as if the minimum wage was raised for fast-food employees or those in hotels, the companies themselves could be more inclined to automate faster to save money.
One more insightful solution could be improving America’s education system; ensuring opportunities across all levels of academia are equally extended to women and minorities as they are to men.