Trend Press Wire

New Study: Automation to disproportionately affect women in healthcare

News   •   Jun 05, 2019 01:55 EDT

An emergency department in 2030 is poised to look much different as automation takes hold, and those changes are likely to disproportionately affect women in healthcare, according to a new report.

Automation will displace as many as 1 in 4 female workers across all sectors, or 160 million women, but that will be offset by an increase in demand and productivity, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute. That does not account for "frontier" jobs that one could not even imagine today, said Kweilin Ellingrud, a senior partner at McKinsey and co-author of the report.

"It is scary to have your job changed fundamentally, to be forced to learn new skills and new technology, and have things that may have worked for decades changed under your feet," she said. "But the good news is that the remaining jobs will be higher-productivity and higher-wage and also be more fulfilling."

EDs may be less full in the future as telehealth enables remote care, diverting lower-acuity cases. Consumers could use their phones to check in and wearables could log their vitals before they get to the facility. Advanced diagnostic tools would expedite lab results and back-office automation is primed to streamline the clerical work.

This would have a profound impact on healthcare workers' daily routine. Automation may ease employees' workload and allow them to focus more on patients. It may increase the value for cognitive and social skills as well as technological proficiency.

Healthcare will account for about a quarter of the global job growth for women by 2030 as the population ages, the report found. Women make up 70% of the global healthcare industry across 10 countries the institute studied; that tips closer to 80% in the U.S., per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More of the new jobs will require advanced degrees and high-wage jobs will rise by an average of 4%, while medium- and low-wage jobs will decline by 11% and 7%, respectively, McKinsey's analysis shows.

While women are well-represented in healthcare, they are underrepresented in other growth industries as well as in leadership positions. Previous McKinsey Global Institute research estimated that narrowing gender gaps could add $12 trillion to the global economy in 2025. However, in the four years since the institute first analyzed gender inequality, progress has been limited, and women's progress toward equality in the workplace continues to lag behind social indicators of equality.

Meanwhile, manufacturing could account for 25% of job gains for men where automation boosts productivity and fuels expansion, according to the report. The only sectors that could see net job growth in many mature economies by 2030 are professional, scientific, technical services and healthcare.

Healthcare organizations have been trying to prepare their workforce by subsidizing higher education and development opportunities. Yet, entrenched barriers will make it harder for women to make transitions, McKinsey researchers said.

They have less time to learn new skills or search for employment because they spend much more time than men on unpaid care work; are less mobile due to physical safety, infrastructure and legal challenges; and have lower access to digital technology and science, technology, engineering and math fields than men.

"Men and women need to be skilled, mobile and tech-savvy in the automation age, but women face long-established barriers on all three, which makes it harder to make the necessary transitions," Mekala Krishnan, senior fellow at the Mckinsey Global Institute and co-author of the report, said in prepared remarks.

Adapting to an automation-enabled workforce will require collaboration between the government and private industry, Ellingrud said.

Policymakers and businesses need to boost investment in training and transitional support for women and increase access to child care and safe and affordable transportation. They must address stereotypes about occupations, expand women's access to mobile internet and digital skills in emerging economies, and support women in STEM professions and entrepreneurship, she said.

"It's important to have a gender lens with these reskilling opportunities," Ellingrud said. "If the reskilling program doesn't take into account things like the availability of child care, a lot of women are going to get left behind."