When women thrive, organizations thrive, even in a disrupted economy

Whose jobs are put most at risk by artificial intelligence and automation?

Common wisdom says it’s men, particularly blue collar men whose jobs are primarily manual labour, such as factory workers put at risk by robotics or truck drivers put at risk by the advance of driverless cars.

However, the truth is more complicated. Many of the roles currently becoming automated are service and administrative roles, typically held by women. Further, the sectors that are growing — like machine learning and data sciences — are ones in which women are often poorly represented.

Read: Majority of employees see opportunity for AI to improve workplaces: survey

This trend is reflected in Mercer’s 2019 global talent trends report, which found more than half of executives expect AI and automation to replace as many as one in five jobs at their organization.

By taking a few simple steps, women in organizations can be well-placed to succeed, with the skills needed to perform in the global economy. When women thrive, organizations thrive, in an age of disruption as much as any other time.

To ensure women thrive in organizations, invest in their skills development, a practice commonly known as re-skilling. Organizations often resist making these sorts of investments, as they’re afraid re-skilled talent will take their new knowledge to the competition.

Human resources need to leave this mindset in the past, where it belongs. The research found two in five employees are planning to leave their organization in the next 12 months. This means attract and retain must shift to attract and attract, a critical part of enticing talent to a company’s brand with employees.

Read: Pay equity problem persists in Canadian workplaces: survey

Another core component of an employee value proposition is benefits. The research showed women value flexible hours and health benefits more than their male counterparts. If an organization commits to helping female employees re-skill, and provides them with the flexible benefits they’d prefer, it will have a comparative advantage in the war for talent.

But how to ensure these intentions are carried out, that they’re woven into the fabric of an organization? The research also found there’s a major gap between executives’ words and actions when it comes to diversity. While executives said diversity is a top concern, only 22 per cent of employees give their company an A for ensuring equity in pay and promotion decisions.

Diversity and inclusion has to be treated like any other business challenge: set smart, achievable goals and measure them using the power of data. Unfortunately, few organizations seem to be taking these necessary steps. The research showed only 11 per cent of organizations use analytics to measure the extent of pay inequity, and even fewer use machine learning and modelling techniques to gauge which actions might most effectively help them close the gap.

Read: Editorial: We are woman: A call for gender diversity, pay equity and workplace mentorship

There’s still time to act, but the clock is ticking. Around the world, governments are requiring companies within their jurisdiction to report gender pay imbalances. Pay equity is not just the right thing to do; it’s mission critical.

Despite the gendered impact of automation, there’s a way forward: ensuring organizations take the necessary steps to develop strategies that will lead to lasting change. This means:

  • Starting from the top — Organizational change starts with the head and trickles throughout. Leadership must fully commit to establishing a lasting, diverse culture that can withstand disruption, and actively consider how re-skilling, talent attraction and talent retention programs are affecting women workers. Ensure inclusion is a core competency in executive selection by disclosing gender pay gaps and retention rates, and linking compensation with equity results.
  • Put women in critical roles — The research found having more women in profit-and-loss roles is strongly linked to greater gender diversity throughout the organization. But only one in five organizations have achieved this in Canada.
  • Actively supporting women’s unique needs — Canada offers one of the most comprehensive maternal and paternal leave programs globally. Despite this deserved praise, Canadian women have been losing ground because benefits packages are often identical for women and men. It’s time organizations create and act on the strategies needed to account for women’s unique needs. In doing so, employee value propositions will improve and help ensure employers are well-placed to compete in the talent market of a disrupted world.

Read: Canadian HR functions unprepared for growth of AI, automation: survey