This week: women, more automation and the future of work. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

Our guest, Professor Rae Cooper

The stories this week

00:45 – Hate International Women’s Day? 

24:23 – Robots taking our jobs, again

Gender pay gap statistics – athletes and actors 

On the world bank’s gender equality 

The 2019 McKinsey report: The automation opportunity 

Women, Work & Leadership Research Group 

Women and the Future of Work: Report 1 of the Australian Women’s Working Futures 

The investment management boy’s club 

A future of automation, SBI podcast 

The skills for the automation future: “Empathy and Creativity will save our jobs in the future” 

Women and the future of work 

Anne Summers at the National Press Club

Full video of Anne Summers at NPC 

You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunesSpotifySoundcloudStitcherLibsyn, YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow us online on FlipboardTwitter, or 

Our theme music was composed and played by Linsey Pollak. 

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Dr Sandra Peter is the Director of Sydney Executive Plus at the University of Sydney Business School. Her research and practice focuses on engaging with the future in productive ways, and the impact of emerging technologies on business and society.

Kai Riemer is Professor of Information Technology and Organisation, and Director of Sydney Executive Plus at the University of Sydney Business School. Kai's research interest is in Disruptive Technologies, Enterprise Social Media, Virtual Work, Collaborative Technologies and the Philosophy of Technology.

Rae Cooper is Professor of Gender, Work and Employment Relations as well as Co-Director of the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group at The University of Sydney Business School.

Disclaimer: We'd like to advise that the following program contains real news, occasional philosophy and ideas that may offend some listeners.

Intro: This is The Future, This Week on Sydney Business Insights. I'm Sandra Peter. And I'm Kai Riemer. Every week we get together and look at the news of the week. We discuss technology, the future of business the weird and the wonderful, and things that change the world. Okay let's start. Let's start!

Kai: Today on The Future, This Week: angry women, more automation and the future of work.

Sandra: I'm Sandra Peter, I'm the director of Sydney Business Insights.

Kai: I'm Kai Riemer, professor at the Business School and leader of the Digital Disruption Research Group.

Sandra: So Kai, what happened in the future this week?

Kai: Well, I can tell you what happens today, it is International Women's Day and we're trying something new on The Future, This Week.

Sandra: We've got a guest on, so we've got Rae Cooper with us who is a professor here at the University of Sydney Business School, and she also the co- director of the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group. And we thought, who better to have here on International Women's Day, so we've asked her to bring the first story for today.

Rae: Hey, how are you? So, my story that I thought we'd start with today is an article by a journalist called Georgie Dent, writing for Women's Agenda, which is a outlet that often covers issues around gender equality. And the title of the article is "Confession: I (still) hate International Women's Day", which perhaps is a little bit controversial for today, but I'll get to why I chose it. So, in the article she goes through all of the issues we're still facing in terms of gender equality and inequality in workplaces, in society, and in politics. And that includes things like the gender pay gap, the fact that we still face a range of gender-based disrespect and behaviour at work for women, including things like sexual harassment. She has a look at things such as the real scourge that we still face around violence against women, and the fact that 69 women were killed last year by their partner. And a range of issues that really say to us we still have a very big gender-based disadvantage, and gender-based problems at work, in our economy, and in our society. So, why does she say she hates International Women's Day? Georgie really argues that what we've turned International Women's Day into is kind of a cupcake parade, and a day when we pop on our business suits, our pants suits and go to corporate events to celebrate how women are achieving across different occupations, professions, in organisations. And I think what she's saying is that by doing that, we are kind of lying to ourselves that women have reached the pinnacle of organisations, that women are making the inroads that we thought that we should, you know, a generation ago. But that in fact we're still facing those same old problems. And in fact, what we should be doing is being filled with what she says is "resentment and simmering rage" on International Women's Day. And we should actually be, instead of eating cupcakes, we should be fighting the power.

Sandra: And it's not just her, right? Anne Summer's has said the same thing.

AUDIO - Anne Summers: This is not to say that full equality is being achieved, let alone nirvana. There is some still some stubborn holdouts. A woman has never been Treasurer, or head of the Treasury or the Defence Department, or been Chief of the Defence Force. (or even head of one of the armed services). But the most glaring - and certainly the most topical - exception to the seemingly inexorable march towards equality, has been the severe partisan imbalance in the numbers of women in Federal Parliament. Of the 75 women in Federal Parliament today, just 19 liberals and to represent the national party women 46 percent, 46.3 percent of the ALP representations but only 22.9 percent of the liberals and just 9.5 percent of the nationals the Liberal and National parties do worse than any other parties in Federal Parliament when it comes to representation of women. In fact not just was far worse than every other party in the parliament has a significantly greater representation of women than the current than the parties that currently form the federal government.

Kai: So these are sobering numbers and if we consider the federal parliament to be the representation of the people then clearly this government does not represent all the people and I can understand, you know, why are angry. Do you hate Women's Day, Rae?

Rae: I actually don't hate International Women's Day. I actually think there is a place for us to be celebrating our achievements. But I also think you can celebrate at the same time as action, really trying to push for action. So I think it's important to have at least one of the 365 days of a year where we actually talk about women and their experience, what they want and what they need. But, I don't think we should just have one day, I think that should be all of the time.

Kai: How do we make sure that this is not going to be Groundhog Day. That we come together every year over and over again, and as Georgina says have women in their spare time organise these events on International Women's Day, to remind us that we still have the same problem.

Rae: Yeah, well it's a very big problem and things are not moving as quickly as we'd like in most areas that I do my research on. The gender pay gap is not moving.

Kai: In fact parliament has gone backwards, right?

Rae: Parliament is absolutely going backwards. At the moment we are sitting at 50th in the world, in terms of gender representation in our Federal Parliament, whereas in the mid 90s we were 15th in the world. That's absolutely going in the wrong direction.

Kai: So let's talk about gender pay gap maybe.

Sandra: So the article mentions the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap, where we remain 202 years off gender parity. 202 years, that's quite a lot. And that seems to be up from two years ago, where we were 169 years off. What are we doing well and what were we doing badly?

Rae: Well one of the areas that we're doing very well, is in the education of girls and women. And that is the only area where we have a gender gap in favour of women. So women's attainment is much higher than men across all educational fields. The problem is, where that's not translating, is into areas in the labour force. So that's around pay, it's around access to good jobs that are also flexible jobs. It's around men having access to jobs that are flexible to allow them to take part in their families, perhaps in the way that they would like to. And it's around things like seniority for women in jobs at the top of organisations and in senior board roles, and those kinds of issues. So, we're doing really well in education and that actually is something that we should celebrate. That's a choice that women are making about investing in themselves, and it's choices that educational institutions, like the University of Sydney are making, in investing in women. But, you know, you need to look at it and say if women are not getting the payback on that investment, that's a real loss for us. If they hit the labour market, and are not making the most of what they've invested in, what we've invested in as educational institutions, and also governments, you know, taxpayers. That's a real loss for us.

Kai: So some of the wheels come off after women entered the workforce.

Rae: Yeah.

Kai: So, because the better education, and that's a great achievement, a great outcome, doesn't really translate into more women in leadership positions. We have, and the article quotes "only 7 percent of the ASX 200 companies have a female CEO" which is a shocking number.

Rae: Or 93 percent of those organisations have a male CEO. It's a different way of framing it, right? It actually makes it more stark, you know rather than othering the women, let's look at the reality here, which is total male domination.

Sandra: And that's not just in the ASX 200. I mean if you look at the highest earning athletes for instance in the top 100 in the world, there are zero women. That is, the top 100 highest paid athletes in the world are all men. And there are Belgian basketball players that make more than Serena Williams. I think that's a startling number. And even if you're add technology to that, and you look at what's happening on YouTube for instance. The top-earning artists on YouTube are all men. Women get paid less, even in those instances. So it's not just about ASX top 200.

Kai: So, not surprisingly this week there have been a lot of articles that look at gender pay gap. Can we unpack that, Rae? So when we read gender pay gap, I immediately think, okay women are paid less. But it's quite a nuanced and more complicated phenomenon isn't it?

Rae: Yeah, there's lots of different ways of looking at it, but in Australia what we typically used to look at the National gender pay gap, is using the workplace gender equality agency's data, and definitions that come from the ABS, and that is to look at average weekly ordinary time earnings. So that looks at: what does a full-time working woman, a full-time working man, earn relative to each other. And what we come up with in Australia is a gap of 14.6 percent, this year. If we actually had a look at earnings total, so what do women and men with bonuses, and those undisclosed pays. What does that mean, in terms of what the earnings that are brought home in the pay packet. We have a much bigger gap. So, it's really best-case scenarios when you have apples and apples of full-time men and full-time women, together. So that doesn't also account for the fact that many women work on a non-full-time basis compared to men, so it's actually not about what is brought home, because of the differential in hours. So, it really is best-case scenario. So the drivers for that are quite complex, and it goes to the fact that most women and most men in Australia, and many economies, but Australia more acutely so, work in occupations and sectors which are stacked towards one gender or the other. So most men work with men, most women work with women. So in areas that are 60 percent plus of one gender, or the other.

Kai: And unfortunately, many of those professions are lower paid professions like health and education.

Rae: Absolutely, yeah. So the more feminised a occupation or a profession is, the more undervalued it is. And we have all sorts of evidence that this is the case. So it's the undervaluation of feminised labour, but it's also about the fact that many women work in those very low paid jobs. So we talk about the glass ceiling as a metaphor for what's going on. I actually think the bigger driver.

Kai: So glass ceiling meaning women...

Rae: So, women can see up through organisations, they can see that they can get to the top, but you actually can't get there because you hit your head at a certain point.

Kai: That's the 93% men CEO's.

Rae: Yes, that's when we're talking about CEOs or board directorship. That's the glass ceiling. There are just less women who make it up to the dizzy heights.

Sandra: But what happens at the other end?

Rae: So the sticky floor is a much bigger problem. The sticky floor is actually about the bulk of the jobs that are at the lower end of the labour force that are low paid per hour, are precarious, often quite dangerous jobs too, are jobs that are taken by women. So they're jobs that basically are on minimum wage. There's very compressed wages, and there's not much of a classification structure for women to move through. So, it's kind of like being stuck at that bottom end, without ways to move out of it. Now, the reason why so many of those jobs are feminised is in part about the norms about what's appropriate work for men and women, but it's also about the fact that our organisations still really haven't come to terms with the fact that if we want to try to keep women in the labour force, we should try to keep them at the level to which they are trained. So often what we'll find is that women who can't access flexibility that they might need to combine their working lives with their family lives, will choose jobs that are lower paid, but actually have an element of flexibility in there. So in a way they step back from those more senior jobs because they're unmanageable in terms of the jobs that are available to them, and that make those combinations possible. So there's a whole bunch of things going on there. And then there's also the glass walls, which are another really significant issue and that goes to the issue of occupational and professional segregation by gender. So that's about the feminised or male-dominated areas.

Kai: So at an economy level we have problems in the sense that professions are not equally stacked and they pay differently, if we stay within the same organisation, right, we have the distribution problem, less women in leadership positions.

Sandra: The pathways problem.

Kai: Yeah, the pathways problem, and we often find also in a university context that female colleagues when they go up for promotion they're much better qualified often than male colleagues. So there's a skills issue as well. And then there's still the sticky problem that even if we had like for like, a man and a woman in the exact same position, even though it might be illegal to pay them different base salary they might still take home a very different salary, because there's bonuses and those hidden elements, right?

Rae: Right. And what we know is that the more that discretionary pay makes up the pay packet, in a sector or an occupation, the greater the gender pay gap. And so that's the story behind the quite large gender pay gap in finance, for example, which has quite a whack of the salary taken home there is in discretionary pay. So, the less that there is discretionary pay as a part of the pay packet in an occupation or a sector, the closer the gap is. So having said that even in those areas where the minimum wage, the award rate of pay, is the way that wages are set, we still see a 10 percent pay gap. So, it's everywhere, but you're right, the more discretionary pay that's available, much more of a gender pay gap exists.

Sandra: So, it is International Women's Day, and on The Future, This Week we do look forward. How do we move on from here, what do we do next? Because this is a very complex and complicated problem. We talked about gaps, we talked about pathways, about norms, about education. How do we move forward?

Rae: I think one of the problems is that it is so complex to try to explain what the issue is, so often people will say to me 'what's the one thing we can do to fix this?'. There isn't one thing that we can do. So I think it's about having a joined-up strategy, about valuing women's contribution, and not just in the workplace. Because what happens in the workplace actually is generated from what happens in other places. So, I think it's about saying what are the dimensions of this problem? What are the drivers for it? And then tried to join up things that are going on in the family. So, around who does what care, who steps out of the labour force, who steps in to the labour force, and the gendered norms around that. It's around challenging what we do in terms of our legislations, and the way that we set up our educational institutions, for example, and the norms around what's appropriate for what young women and men should study, and challenging that. But it's also about looking at workplaces and how workplaces can make a change in terms of valuing women's contribution, and looking at their data to understand what their pay outcomes are, and not just doing that as an academic exercise, but actually looking at it to be able to drive change. So I think it's a multi-level range of things that we have to do, and unless we do all of those things at once, I think that we're going to be looking in 2020 at no change again.

Kai: Well, we will just re-run this podcast then in a year's time, right, because no need to actually do this.

Rae: Well, maybe there'll be some changes.

Kai: Some countries have taken certain measures. The UK now has a requirement that organisations have to publish the gender pay gap and salary levels in certain parts of workforce. Is that something that we should do in Australia? Does that help?

Rae: We do. We are already do.

Kai: We do that. Ok, given that we already do this, why is this not in the media more, and why...

Sandra: Because people know. It's not an issue that people don't know, everybody knows there's a gender pay gap, we don't have to publish it to know. We know!

Kai: Ok, let me rephrase this. What is the transparency, the extent to which we can actually drill down into this data, because aggregate data, as we all know, you lose a lot of the complexity.

Rae: Right.

Kai: So, do we know only the base salaries, or do we know the bonuses and all of the kind of things that actually create the problem, right, and can we actually see how that plays out in certain levels. Would I, in my organisation be able to know, for example, who gets what bonus or loading, male and female, to actually put the problem on the table rather than say there's a gap of 6 percent. Let's check again next year.

Rae: Yeah, yeah, you're right. So the more disaggregated the data can be the more nuanced our understanding of what the dimensions of the problem are and the more access we have to the particular levers to make a change. Workplace Gender Equality Agency data, which is our reporting framework, which employers of over 100 in the private sector must do every year. Their data is on an organisational basis, doesn't go to the individual unit level. So we know at an organisation level what's going on, and we can track that over time. And, look in many respects that data is the envy of the world. What would be even more useful, I think you're right, is to go down to that level of the individual to understand what are the really, you know, minute drivers that are going on there at different levels of the organisation.

Kai: But the problem is, to know that we have a problem is different from having the data to actually fix the problem. One of the things that interests me is, and I think you've done some research into this Rae, is the experiences of women who are pioneers in going into a very male-dominated professions, right. How do we actually break up what is often a 'bro' culture, a very masculine-dominated profession, where it's not really appealing for young women to go into these professions because they'd be very lonely. They'd have little in the way of sharing their experience with others. What do we do about this?

Rae: Yeah, so we're working on a project at the moment in the Women Work and Leadership Research Group around that very thing, which is women going into hypermasculine occupations. So where there are 90 percent men in the occupation. So, we're looking at the moment at women investment managers, we are looking at women pilots, and also women who work in the auto trades, who are trades trained employees. So across really different sections of the labour force, and different training pathways, different earning levels. I can tell you there's an extra nought on the salaries of women investment management compared to women working in the auto trades. But, some of the experiences are quite similar actually. So it's not all gloom and doom, because when you talk to the women who are working in these occupations, and you're right Kai, they really are trailblazers. They talk about how much they love the technical aspects of their work and the real challenges that are involved. They talk about their capacity to impact more broadly on society. So if we talk about investment managers, they're very conscious of the fact that they hold, in funds, trillions of dollars that are about the future of our economy, and feel very passionately about that. But they also talk about the 'bro' culture, and the fact that the entire culture of these organisations seems to be set up around glorifying male traits and characteristics. And being unwelcoming to women as 'the other', in inverted commas. So, I think there's a lot of work to do, to change that culture, so just flooding more and more women into those occupations doesn't change the culture of organisations, doesn't change the practices around what we value, doesn't change things like access to flexibility around things like care. It doesn't change the fact that a lot of deals are done at the football, or done in the pub after work, when some members of the workforce can't attend. And that exclusionary kind of behaviour. It doesn't change the fact that some men in organisations think it's okay to speak down to women, and to insult their technical capabilities.

Kai: It was a scandal in Germany a little while back where the largely male workforce in an insurance company would go to strip clubs after work right, and there would be a lot of conversations about work, and obviously that would make female colleagues highly uncomfortable, they wouldn't join, they'd be excluded.

Rae: Well, probably lots of men as well, right? A lot of men would actually feel very uncomfortable.

Kai: Yeah, and that's also a point that I think we shouldn't forget, that the division is not 100 percent male or female, because the kind of cultures that we find in these workplaces are quite offensive to many male colleagues as well, right.

Rae: And if we frame that as a women's issue, obviously it affects women. But, this is not an issue that women need to fix, this is an organisational culture problem , and it's about decisions that people make, often men, about what's appropriate behaviour and what's not appropriate behaviour. So yeah, let's move it away from a women's issue and let's move it into a mainstream professional practice and culture.

Kai: Yeah it's a culture issue.

Sandra: Speaking of cultural issues the big movement of 2018 has been the #metoo movement, and that has been labelled a cultural issue and a big change. Have we really seen change then, in culture?

Rae: I think we are definitely having lots of conversations about the change that we need to make, and the types of behaviours that are unacceptable in the workplace. And personally, I think that's a really good thing. I think it's important for a number of reasons, and one of which is I think it says to women you don't need to put up with this behaviour. This is not normal. This is not part of your job. This is not an expectation of what you should have to happen to you when you go to work. And we know that has been a feature of organisations in the past. Whether it's leading to real change in culture and organisations, I guess that's something we need to really think closely about., you know we have a national inquiry going on at the moment in Australia about the prevalence of sexual harassment and how we might be able to make changes there. We've made a submission to that inquiry. But just having a conversation doesn't mean that we're making changes, I think we need to follow that up with action. And again, going back to the issue of whether this is a women's issue or whether this is a broader issue, I think that this is something that senior leaders in organisations need to be taking the reins. Women have said now this is enough. We've suffered through this stuff, and we don't want it to happen anymore. It's up to the leaders of organisations to start saying this is the sort of behaviour that we'll accept. This is what we want to happen in our place of work.

Sandra: Is there a flip side to this coin, where some of those senior leaders are actually using this as an excuse to maybe not mentor women on a one-on-one basis, because you can't pick them to the pub, you can't take them to the football pitch, and you certainly cannot stay with them after hours alone in an office.

Kai: We've heard a lot of fears in the media recently, you know, depending on which channel you tune in to, where this argument is being turned around right, where now men are complaining that it's making their lives harder because all of these women are just out to falsely accuse people, and to use the #metoo to create problems we didn't have before. What do you say about that?

Rae: Well what I would say to that, I say that's bullshit, actually. I think what we need to do, is have senior leaders not be seeing the pub as a place where they're mentoring people. I don't think beer = mentoring. I think professional relationship in the context of the work that we're doing, and what are we trying to achieve, what do we need you to achieve to go to senior levels in the organisation.

Kai: Also, if mentoring is part of your job, why does that have to happen after hours, right.

Rae: Right. Look I'm the last person to criticise, I love football, I love going to the football, but football is not where I go to have conversations about work. Football is where I go to enjoy football.

Kai: When you say football, what do you mean?

Rae: AFL of course.

Kai: Of course. Thank you. OK, so we've established our mutual love of Australian Rules football, for our international listeners. If you don't know what that is look it up, it's great.

Rae: Get into that.

Kai: Best sport in the world, most athletic. And there's actually a great women's competition now.

Rae: There is, and that's been one of the best things that's happened in the last year, is watching the women in the AFL.

Kai: But kudos to the AFL for doing the right thing, and actually being successful with it. But let me ask the future question. We've talked a little bit about how to fix the problem. But, why is this so important? Stating the obvious, of course there is a fairness issue and it's the right thing to do. But there's also all kinds of other economic issues why we need the future of work to be more inclusive to women.

Rae: Right, so I think you're right starting at the rights focus, because it's a human rights issue to have men and women, girls and boys, treated with equality. And I think we have to start there. Happily there is also a business case, for these things. I think we've got to be careful of going too far down justifying everything we do with a business case, because if it's profitable to underpay women, is that a business case, do we follow that line of argument. I don't think so. But there is a business case for, especially around things like looking at the impact that diverse teams have about the impact that having inclusive practices at work has for the way that people engage in their work. The likelihood of people to say that they want to stay in employment. And also around key financial indicators, around share price, around a range of things. So there's uncontroversial business case argument there in terms of financial performance of organisations, but I think we have to also balance that with the rights issue, and saying this is an issue basically of civilisation.

Kai: And let's take this over into our second story, because we want to talk about automation. Which has also been a big topic in Australia once again, in the last week. Which is obviously one of those topics that come back regularly. Because when we talk about automation often we hear that machines, robots, AI, they will take a lot of the routine jobs, and as a panacea to that, or as the counter-movement, we hear a lot about that we have to retrain into the more creative, the more human, the more empathetic kind of skills, you know, value human relationships. In essence, the kind of more female traits, or the kind of jobs and skills that we associate with that, if we were to stereotype. So, let's take a look at this story and see if we can apply a gender-lens here as well.

Sandra: So our second story comes from the Sydney Morning Herald and it's titled "'Numerous jobs and professions will change': up to six million could be lost from automation". And it's really taking the same line that we've seen on The Future, This Week now, for a couple of years, that the expected automation of Australian jobs is up to 46 percent of jobs. This is based on a McKinsey report that estimates that 3.5 million to about 6.5 million full-time equivalent jobs could be affected in Australia, that is, could be affected by automation, by artificial intelligence, and the disruption in various industries could range from about 16 percent of jobs in the education sector to about a third of jobs in s sectors like transport. And the position that the McKinsey report takes, and let's not forget the report's called "the automation opportunity", is that: if seized, this opportunity could add between 1 trillion and 4 trillion dollars to the economy over the next 15 years, providing every Australian with up to eleven thousand dollars in additional income, so we should seize this opportunity as quickly and as swiftly as we can.


Kai: Well, I took a look at the actual report and it's quite glaring how absent technology in this report actually is, right. For a report that is about technology automation, the actual tech is conspicuously absent. The report takes it for granted that we will have, you know, robo-taxis, self-driving cars, robotic managers. In essence, all the kind of technologies that have been in the media recently, that we have discussed over the past two years: the struggles, the biases in AI, the fact that self-driving cars don't work. The report just takes for granted that all of this will miraculously appear, in fact, and I quote from the article, "automation is an inevitability that holds enormous promise for Australia". So the 'technological determinism', that's the term that we often use in our Discipline, is quite staggering. So, automation is something that will happen, regardless of what we think and do, so it's not a choice, it's not something that we do, it's just something that will happen. And apparently, the best that Australia can do is adopt automation as quickly, and as comprehensively, as possible. To seize the opportunity, and then to prepare the country in terms of policy, governments, education, society, to deal with the fallout in jobs and re-educating people. So in other words, the report actually gives license to managers to automate the shit out of their workforce, and then asks policy and education institutions to deal with the rest.

Rae: Yeah, the clean up afterwards.

Kai: Absolutely. So I find this a dangerous report which clearly speaks to a certain clientele, and gives them the moral licence to engage in automation, not even questioning whether we have a choice in technology, whether these are things that we do and bring about, but just taking this as a force that will happen. And then on the back of that, does a lot of financial modelling as to what these supposed benefits or fallout might be, which you know, can be useful. I question whether the assumptions that the report rests on are sound, because technology is absent.

Sandra: So, let's have a look at those assumptions. So first, there are some implicit assumptions here about what automation and artificial intelligence is. And you've started talking about this report views technology as this thing that will just happen, and also the thing that will increasingly disrupt industries. But there are actually no good definitions of what we mean by automation, or what we mean by artificial intelligence for that matter, in these reports. In this report again, as we've seen with all of the reports since the first one we've discussed on this podcast, the 2013 reports coming out of Oxford, we've seen that there's actually no good definition of what 'work' is, or what a 'job' is, or indeed what 'tasks' are. It seems that every single one of the jobs that are discussed in this report can be broken down into a series of discrete tasks. So for instance, what an educator does, is just a series of tasks that, some of which can be automated and some of which are slightly harder to automate.

Kai: What also seems to be an underlying assumption is that, if a task can be automated, it will, right.

Sandra: Well that's an assumption that the entire report holds that these are not numbers that will be automated, but that could be.

Kai: Or should be even, right, in this instance. Where this report is actually very pro-automation because in every instance it's called an opportunity, and it is framed in terms of financial gains for the society, and even for worker wages. Then of course there's the pesky inequality problem that society will somehow have to deal with, you know, not much in the way of actual measures are being discussed.

Sandra: The implicit assumption there is that society can deal with this. So for instance, part of this report refers to automation being a significant issue in the mining sector and automating all the jobs in small mining towns will leave the government to basically retrain those people in other areas. But the question is, is that something that is actually doable. And would these towns actually survive a wave of automation that will see 80 or 90 percent of that work being displaced.

Kai: And we're not saying that this automation is not going to happen, because many industries will see significant automation. What we critically question here is, first of all, the bluntness with which this argument is being made. Where human agency is completely taken out of the equation, right. That managers just adopt automation as some external force. No decisions, ethical, moral considerations have to be made. And also, the way in which automation at work seems to be a fairly uniform phenomenon. Now Rae, you have done some work around how workers actually see, or experience this looming threat of automation.

Rae: So, our report on "Women and the Future of Work" actually, despite the title, talked to both men and women about issues around the future of work, including automation. And one of the questions that we asked people in our national survey, was how concerned they are about different aspects that are emerging in the workplace, in terms of a threat to their jobs. One of the issues we asked about was, you know, the extent to which they're concerned that they would lose their job as a result of automation. And some really interesting differences emerge across many areas. But one of the things that really stood out, was a difference in terms of gender. So a much larger proportion of men are worried about the threat of automation for their jobs. So about 40 percent of men said that they had some concern about automation potentially leading to job loss for them. Still high, but you know, less for women which is more like, I think it's 28 percent of women said that they were concerned. So, interestingly in terms of the things that workers are worried about, I mean that's one, but much higher rates of concern around things like the threat of lower paid workers being able to take over their jobs, or things like poor management of the organisation in which they're working, as being real fears that workers, both men and women, have about job loss in the future.

Kai: So which brings us back to the point I made earlier in that not all work is the same obviously, not all professions are the same. And maybe, a little bit ironically here, given how automation is a very technologically rich phenomenon, driven by new technological developments, and the kind of professions that are largely male-dominated. It is also largely male-dominated jobs that are under threat from automation because, as we heard earlier, a lot of female workers work in the more relationship-oriented social professions, nursing, education, with the kind of skills that are often discussed as the antithesis to, you know 'the robots are coming', empathy, relationship building, social skills, working with customers. So...

Rae: So what are you saying, the robots are coming for men's jobs.

Kai: Well are we solving the gender pay gap by automating men out of these highly paid jobs?

Rae: Out of existence. Well, that would be one way to deal with the gender pay gap. I'm not entirely sure that I'm in favour of that. But I think we do have to have a gendered, sort of nuanced view, of all of this. So, if we look at the jobs that are growing and are projected to grow. If you look at productivity commission figures, or you know, any projections about where we're going to see significant job growth. It is in health, human services, and education. They are highly feminised areas, and we're not having a debate about what AI might look like in those contexts, or what the impact of that is in those kinds of sectors. So we're not having a conversation about women's future of work, we're having a conversation, again, about men.

Sandra: And that goes to the heart of one of the implicit threats in all of these reports, which is increasing social polarisation and job polarisation. What these predictions are telling us is that what we will all permit are basically middle-income jobs, analytics jobs, finance jobs, jobs in law, versus domestic work, nursing, human services. And if we think about the conversations we've had previously, you will keep those CEO jobs, the 93 percent male jobs, and you will keep nursing jobs, you will keep domestic work, which are mostly feminised.

Kai: So we'll keep the glass ceiling, we keep the sticky floor, and we have automation in the middle. Is that what we're saying? And so, looking at it that way, that might actually not be good news for women, in the sense that this upward mobility goes away when we have less jobs in that category. I want to put a slightly more positive spin on this conversation, going back to what is often discussed as 'the other side' of automation. I think if the conversation, whether or not automation will happen to the extent that we read in these reports (and I personally don't think it will, at least not in the short term). There will obviously be automation, and it is going to be anything that a computer can do, a computer will do, in terms of, you know, the more quantitative jobs that we have. Will AI be this thinking thing that largely displaces human cognition? Probably not. But, we often see a discussion now, around what are the kind of skills that these technologies can't do. Empathy, social skills, relationship-building, creativity, ingenuity, and the kind of skills that are often associated with female traits. So, maybe putting more emphasis on this, maybe driving the conversation in this direction, might actually help improve workplace culture, and having more inclusive workplaces. Or at least, this is where the conversation is at, and we read a lot of this in the media at the moment. So, and Sandra is giving me this look.

Sandra: Yes, because implicit in what you've said is an assumption that all women are empathetic, kind, caring, and creative.

Rae: Which is a bit gender essentialist, really. So.

Kai: Yes. OK.

Rae: You're wrong.

Kai: Well.

Sandra: For the first time on The Future, This Week.

Kai: OK, fair point.

Sandra: There’s also this technology assumption that will automate away everything boring, and somehow all the new jobs that will come up in the wake of this, will not be other boring jobs, but will be new, creative, interesting jobs that we should all prepare for.

Kai: We will put up sandpits everywhere, and we will all be creative, and happily play in the beanbag-infested Google-style workplaces, or at least this is where the conversation at, so.

Rae: Well, I don't think that's how it's shaping up in aged-care, or disability-care, for example, which is one of the areas that's the fastest growing in the labour market.

Kai: Exactly.

Rae: And in fact what we're doing there is not designing, you know, beanbags and pipe cleaners and design thinking. What we're doing there, is designing in a very low wage workforce, where there's almost no capacity for training, and there's no capacity for engagement between workers in those organisations.

Kai: So then let me make my earlier point differently. We're not going to all do design thinking, we're all going to be creative, and jobs will not change in that way. But, we will have to actually rethink the way in which we value certain types of work. As a society, we seem to put a lot of emphasis and a lot of value, and therefore remuneration, on analytical skills and technical skills. But we seem to forget that equally exhausting, is emotional labour. The kind of work that is associated with nursing, teaching, emergency service work, where it's often not only physical work, but emotional labour. So maybe a learning from this, is not necessarily that we're all going to be in a different kind of job, but that we're rethinking the way in which we value certain types of work.

Rae: And I agree with you about that being a way forward for the future of work, and happily that will also address the gender pay gap.

Kai: And that's all we have time for today.

Sandra: Rae, thanks for joining us this week.

Rae: Thank you.

Kai: See you soon on The Future, This Week.

Sandra: Next week.

Kai: Yes, but this week.

Rae: And I'll see you next year, talking about exactly the same things.

Kai: Thanks for listening.

Sandra: Thanks for listening.

Outro: This was the Future, This Week made possible by the Sydney Business Insights Team and members of the Digital Disruption Research Group. And every week right here with us our Sound Editor Megan Wedge who makes us sound good, and keeps us honest. Our theme music was composed and played live on a set of garden hoses by Linsey Pollak. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud or wherever you got your podcast. You can follow us online on Flipboard, Twitter or at If you have any news that you want us to discuss, please send them to

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