Gender diversity and automation; upskilling and empowering women through technology

This International Women’s Day, Francesca Stewart dives deep into gender diversity and automation, and considers how we can harness the value of both technological advancement and gender diversity.


At a glance:

  • Women currently stand to be disproportionately displaced by technology, with 70% of the jobs deemed to be at high risk held by women.
  • The prevalence of women in process-based roles and lack of early representation in STEM are contributing factors in this imbalance.
  • A significant opportunity exists to improve future employment outcomes, by upskilling and empowering women through technology.

Technology is advancing at a staggering pace, revolutionising the way we live and work.

Across all major industries, digital transformation offers immense opportunity to enhance customer satisfaction, drive productivity, and achieve unprecedented levels of organisational performance. Technology is also helping to address issues around rising labour costs, growing customer demand, and the need for more sustainable and efficient use of materials.

Yet despite the promise that these advancements bring, emerging automation technologies (like AI and machine learning, natural language processing and industrial robotics), also have the potential to limit future career and employment opportunities for millions of women worldwide.

In recognition of International Women’s Day 2023 and the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), Francesca Stewart (Gerard Daniels Research Associate) dives deep into this issue, exploring how upskilling and empowering women through technology can begin to chart a new course.

The facts:

  • 26 million female jobs in 30 countries are at risk of displacement through technology.
  • More than 70% of the jobs deemed to be at high risk are held by women.
  • Globally up to 160 million women may need to transition between occupations and enter into higher-skilled roles due to automation.

The problem:

The broken rung that prevents women from stepping up into management roles, continues to hold many women back. As a result, women are overrepresented in process-based administrative roles and underrepresented in leadership – an imbalance that positions women to lose out unduly on jobs of the future.

“Process-based roles are most likely to be affected by technology, which puts women at a disproportionately high risk of displacement by automation and other technological advance,” says Francesca. “As automation increases, some roles will disappear, while others will integrate technologies that require a significant uplift in existing skill sets. Upskilling and empowering women through technology can mitigate this displacement, and improve employment, gender diversity and commercial outcomes.”

The opportunity:

It’s difficult to predict the full impact of digital transformation. But if it is done well, in addition to the business benefits, there is the opportunity to enhance employee wellbeing and job satisfaction by simplifying work processes, leveraging energy and giving people more control over work/life balance. The key to a positive experience is inclusion.

“To create positive experiences, women must be part of the process and feel empowered to grow and learn,” Francesca says. “Women must also believe they have the capability to succeed in the new world of work, and be equipped with skills of the future, so that they can successfully manage technology and engage in this transition.”

Upskilling and empowering women through technology

To harness the value of both technology and gender diversity, organisations must upskill in the right areas. Francesca describes these as priority areas for making data-driven decisions; mitigating risk; and achieving the critical and analytical thinking needed to stay competitive.

  • Digital literacy – being able to use technology safely, effectively and responsibly.
  • Data literacy – reading, understanding, analysing, communicating and deriving information from data.
  • Technical skills – having the skills to support, utilise and enhance new and emerging technologies.
  • Digital threat awareness – understanding where cyber threats exist and providing the right protection.

Ethical supply chains

While technology advancement threatens displacement for women in industrialised countries, the impact will be far more significant in emerging and developing economies. “To minimise displacement, businesses operating internationally must take care to ensure their supply chain operates ethically,” says Francesca. “It is timely to begin appropriately upskilling female front line workers, so that they can maintain their livelihoods as technological change takes place”.

Investing in STEM

Despite progress, a lack of representation in STEM remains a threat to jobs of the future for many women.

  • In Australia only 36% of 2022 enrolments in university STEM course enrolments were women.
  • Women represented just 27% of the workforce across all STEM industries.
  • Less than a quarter of senior management and 8% of CEOs in STEM-qualified industries were women.

“Even in countries where the gendered expectations and structural inequalities that push girls out of STEM are being addressed, there is still a legacy impact for women who were raised when these values, expectations and cultural norms were quite different,” says Francesca. “This means that there are still women today who lack confidence in their technical ability to fully participate in technological advancement. To succeed in jobs of the future, women need the tools and confidence to step up, skill up, and take part.”

Acknowledging and building on progress

Francesca is heartened by the technology industry’s steps forward in diversity leadership. ”I’m particularly excited to see the consideration being given to alternative entry pathways to traditional degrees, which also struggle with low levels of diverse participation and completion,” she says. “Despite 97% of ICT roles posted in Australia previously requiring a degree, some tech organisations have begun to buck the trend by accepting short courses and aptitude testing as qualifiers.”

Progress in the start-up space is equally exciting,” she continues. “I have recently become aware of a woman-founded robotics learning centre here in WA, with a focus on participation by underrepresented groups including female and indigenous, which is expanding to include neurodiverse and deaf learners. Collaborations between industry and learning centres like these can facilitate upskilling and bring new knowledge and diverse networks into organisations.”

Starting – and being part of – the conversation

The race to integrate technologies that make business faster, more agile and responsive has already begun. To close the gap now is the time to act, and women must be part of the conversation.

“Many organisations are already leading digitisation initiatives to seek a competitive edge, but businesses that lack expertise or have a culture of resistance may not reach their full potential,” Francesca reflects. “To move forward, organisations need an honest assessment of where they're at in terms of digital ability. A digital transformation strategy can then be formulated and communicated, with change management being central to this process.”

“We’re standing at the precipice of a technological revolution which will change the way that the world functions,” she continues. “As many of the skills of the future, and workers of the future don't yet exist, there’s a unique opportunity for both men and women to develop into future leaders, and to design the future of work together. Women need a seat at the table, because technology that is designed without the inclusion of women will never serve us as well as it could and should.”

Need to know more?

On March 8, 2023, Francesca will host a discussion on empowering women through technology at the UNNA WA International Women’s Day Breakfast. To explore this issue further register your attendance, connect with Francesca or reach out to your local Gerard Daniels team.

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