Why do women’s jobs face the greatest risk of automation?

women in robotics

The gender gap remains a persistent issue in the corporate world, but the advent of automation presents a new dimension to this challenge. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) report, “Women, Automation, and the Future of Work,” jobs traditionally held by women are at a higher risk of automation.

Key Findings:

The study reveals that automation will impact men and women differently:

  • Vulnerability of Women’s Jobs: Women-dominated roles such as cashiers, secretaries, and bookkeeping clerks are highly susceptible to automation. These positions rely heavily on repetitive and predictable tasks and are prime candidates for automation technologies.
  • Limited Job Mobility for Women: Women are less likely to work in positions with a lower risk of automation, such as driving jobs. Consequently, their job opportunities are largely confined to roles more vulnerable to technological displacement.
  • Disparity in Job Transition: Men have greater flexibility to transition between different fields, mitigating the impact of automation on their careers. In contrast, women face greater challenges in shifting to new roles less susceptible to automation.
  • Generative AI’s Gendered Impact: A recent study highlights that generative AI could disproportionately affect women. Professor Mark McNeilly notes that 70% of women’s jobs are in white-collar sectors prone to cognitive automation, compared to a more balanced 50-50 split between white and blue-collar jobs for men. Consequently, the impact of AI-driven automation is expected to hit women harder.
  • Sector-Specific Risks: Office administrative support, healthcare, education, and community services, where women are overrepresented, are anticipated to face significant disruptions due to AI adoption.

Broader Implications

A report by the UK’s National Statistics Office (ONS) indicates that 1.5 million British jobs are at high risk of automation, with women and young workers being the most vulnerable. Women currently hold more than 70% of these high-risk jobs, and 16% of employed individuals aged 20-24 are likely to be affected.

The World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report” echoes these findings, predicting that nearly 50% of companies worldwide expect automation to reduce their full-time workforce by 2022. While new roles may emerge from automation, the skills required will evolve significantly.

Understanding the Vulnerability of Women’s Jobs to Automation

The increased risk of automation in women’s jobs can be attributed to several factors related to the nature of their work, occupational segregation, and the types of tasks typically performed in female-dominated roles. Here are the key reasons:

1. Nature of Work

Many jobs predominantly held by women involve repetitive and predictable tasks that are easier to automate. Roles such as cashiers, secretaries, and bookkeeping clerks involve tasks that highly efficient automated systems can perform. These positions require routine administrative or clerical duties, particularly susceptible to technological replacement.

2. Occupational Segregation

The labor market is highly gender-segregated, with women and men often working in different sectors and roles. Women are overrepresented in office and administrative support positions, healthcare, education, and community and social services—fields increasingly targeted by automation technologies. For example:

  • Office and Administrative Support: 70% of these roles are filled by women, and many of these tasks can be automated through software and AI solutions.
  • Healthcare: Women comprise 76% of the workforce in this sector, where AI can automate tasks such as patient data entry, scheduling, and even preliminary diagnostics.
  • Education and Social Services: These fields, heavily staffed by women, are also seeing the introduction of AI-driven tools that can automate administrative tasks and provide educational support.

3. Cognitive Automation

Women are more likely to work in cognitive roles that involve processing information, managing records, and performing administrative duties. Generative AI and other advanced technologies are increasingly automating these cognitive tasks. For instance, AI can handle customer inquiries, manage schedules, and process transactions, significantly impacting roles such as customer service representatives and administrative assistants.

4. Limited Mobility in Job Transition

Women often face greater challenges in transitioning to new fields compared to men. Men have historically had more opportunities to move between different industries and roles, reducing their vulnerability to automation. Women’s careers, however, tend to be more concentrated in sectors that are both highly susceptible to automation and less dynamic in terms of job mobility.

5. Economic and Social Factors

Women are often constrained by economic and social factors that limit their ability to adapt to technological changes. These include:

  • Lower Access to Training: Women may have less training and professional development opportunities crucial for transitioning to new, technology-driven roles.
  • Care Responsibilities: Women are more likely to shoulder most childcare and eldercare responsibilities, which can limit their ability to seek retraining or pursue careers in more dynamic and less automatable fields.
  • Wage Disparities: Women generally earn less than men, which can limit their resources to invest in further education and skill development.

6. Underrepresentation in Tech Fields

Despite the growing importance of digital skills, women are significantly underrepresented in high-tech jobs and less prone to automation. The study notes that even though women work extensively with computers and digital media, they are still a minority in the highest-paid tech occupations, such as software developers and computer scientists. This underrepresentation in tech fields reduces women’s opportunities to transition into roles that are both lucrative and less likely to be automated.

7. Impact of Generative AI

The rise of generative AI has specific implications for women’s employment. Generative AI can automate tasks that involve language processing, data analysis, and content creation—areas where many women currently work. This technology’s capability to perform cognitive tasks means that jobs like administrative support and customer service, predominantly held by women, are particularly at risk.

Adapting to Automation

Despite the risks, there are strategies to adapt to the changing job market. Historical trends show that technological advancements, while disruptive, also create new job opportunities. For instance, generative AI can automate mundane tasks, allowing workers to focus on more complex and meaningful aspects of their jobs.

In healthcare, AI could assist professionals by answering patient questions and offering diagnostic support, enhancing the quality of care and job satisfaction. This shift underscores the importance of embracing new technologies and acquiring relevant skills to stay competitive in the evolving job market.

Policy Recommendations

The IWPR report suggests several policy measures to mitigate the impact of automation on women’s jobs:

  • Skills Development: Expand access to affordable education and training, particularly in digital literacy and advanced technological skills. This includes on-the-job training to help workers adapt to new roles.
  • Job Quality Improvement: Enhance the quality of traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as child and elder care, by increasing investments in these sectors and promoting technological innovations to improve job conditions.
  • Representation in Tech: Accelerate efforts to increase the representation of women and minorities in high-tech jobs through targeted training programs and initiatives.
  • Income and Job Security: Provide comprehensive benefits, such as paid leave and child care, to all workers, including those in gig and part-time roles. Promote policies that facilitate a more equitable distribution of care responsibilities between men and women.
  • Inclusive Technological Development: Encourage the creation of technologies that complement human work rather than replace it, ensuring that workers can focus on more complex and rewarding tasks.


Integrating automation and AI into the workforce presents challenges and opportunities. While women’s jobs are particularly risky, proactive policies and strategic adaptations can help mitigate these risks and ensure a more equitable and resilient job market. Policymakers, businesses, and educational institutions must collaborate to foster an inclusive environment that supports all workers in navigating the future of work.