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The future of women at work in the United Kingdom

Millions of women in the United Kingdom may need to transition between occupations and into higher-skilled jobs due to automation but those transitions could be challenging.

Technological change, notably the adoption of digital, of automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies is transforming the way many of us work. Observers of this phenomenon have long asked how automation may affect the working lives of men and women differently.

A new McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) briefing note focused on the United Kingdom finds that the share of women whose jobs are displaced by automation could be slightly lower than the share of men, but women have the potential to gain jobs on a similar scale to men. However, capturing these opportunities will require women to make challenging job transitions and women could find it harder to adapt than men because they are less mobile than men and lag behind them in skills—notably tech skills.

Between one million and four million women, or 8 to 29 percent of those employed today, may need to make transitions between occupations, and often into higher-skilled roles, depending on how fast automation technologies diffuse. Globally, between 40 million to 160 million women may need to make such transitions.

If women make these transitions, women could find more productive, better-paid work; if they don’t, they could face a growing wage gap with men or could even leave the labor market entirely. Interventions from government and the private sector will be needed to enable women to adapt to automation successfully.

Among the major findings are:

  • At a time when the UK economy faces a great deal of uncertainty related to Brexit, and productivity growth has been disappointing, advancing women’s equality in work could provide a valuable dividend. Previous MGI research found that if all UK regions were to match the progress toward gender parity of the best region, an additional £150 billion could be added to GDP by 2025—that’s more than 5 percent.
  • An estimated 22 percent of employed women in the United Kingdom could find their jobs displaced by automation by 2030.
  • The sectors where most women’s jobs are likely to be displaced are retail and wholesale trade, healthcare, and administration and government, accounting for 44 percent of potential job displacement. The top three sectors for men are manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade, and construction, accounting for 46 percent of total job displacement.
  • Looking at potential job gains, women are well-represented in healthcare. Based on their current share of employment, healthcare could account for 27 percent of potential job demand for women.
  • The United Kingdom has a material gender tech gap. Among first-year full-time students in higher education, only 37 percent of women studied science subjects in 2016–17, compared with 13 percent of men. Only 15 percent of employees in the UK tech industry are female, far lower than 22 percent in the United States and 21 percent in Singapore.
  • If the United Kingdom were to fully close the gender tech gap in terms of women employed in the sector, this could boost GDP by an estimated $39 billion to $124 billion, or a 1.5 to 5 percent increase.
  • To enhance women’s participation in tech, three imperatives stand out: Attract female talent into tech careers and roles; maximize the impact and success of female tech talent in companies; and build a more inclusive image for tech in society.

About the author(s)

Vivian Hunt is a senior partner and managing partner for McKinsey’s United Kingdom and Ireland office. Anu Madgavkar is a partner of the McKinsey Global Institute, where Mekala Krishnan is a senior fellow. Tera Allas is a senior fellow with the McKinsey Center for Government in McKinsey’s London office, where Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle is a senior expert.

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