Future

Why Women Are Better Suited For Work In Our AI Future

Women have intrinsic qualities that can help them in the fluid, digitalized labor markets of the future. But first they must have equal access to technical education.

Woman wearing a virtual reality headset

-Analysis-

CARACAS — Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other disruptive technologies of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution will be shaping labor markets very soon. This is an enormous challenge for people who must display hitherto unsuspected cognitive abilities in the face of systematic competition from machine intelligence.

The World Economic Forum estimates that five to seven million jobs will disappear in developed countries by 2020, to be replaced by robots and AI. The work market will require people to have, in addition to advanced technological skills, other "softer" abilities that complement the machine's efficiency — like complex problem-solving skills, critical thought, creative capacities, people skills, working in teams, flexibility, resilience in taking decisions and a general inclination toward service.

The good news is that these flexible skills required in the labor market of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are readily found in women, who specifically display traits like emotional intelligence, creativity, or ability to express themselves. Yet, even as technologies disrupt an established labor market weighted in favor of male participation, we have some way to go before women are efficiently incorporated in these markets.

The great contribution of the Internet and social networking to closing the gender gap in work markets is that women have been making massive use of information technology (IT), which means one can easily believe today that men and women have very similar intellectual abilities. And yet in Latin America, indices of gender inequality at work persist in spite of an immediate need to reduce them to meet the challenges of the coming labor market.

Student building a robot — Photo: Mao Siqian/Xinhua/ZUMA

The UN's Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) has found several discriminatory indices relating to women and work in our region: They suffer a higher unemployment rate (8.6%) than men (6.6%), their participation rate in the work market is 52.6% (so, almost half of all women have no formal work), 78% of working women are employed in less productive tasks (meaning lower wages and precarious access to social security), and women earn on average 84% of the salary paid to men for the same work.

The figures are not evenly distributed. Peru has the highest female employment rates, according to CEPAL, closely followed by Bolivia. Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay are above the regional average, while Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela have female employment rates of under 50%.

Now is a good time for women to enter en masse.

If these disparate indices were maintained or became more pronounced in the context of the overhaul of employment by the disruptive technologies cited, then female employment rates could deteriorate even further. We may need policies to prevent that ahead of time.

Only education focused on technological innovation can adapt women to the demands of the future work market. If the world of work will be emphasizing hard sciences like engineering or mathematics, then now is a good time for women to enter en masse into these areas, displaying in equal measure their intellectual abilities and soft skills. An important task for Latin American universities is to forge regional environments for innovation through knowledge circuits between countries. Ideally there could be knowledge circuits focused on fomenting skills among women, in response to disruptive technologies.

Perhaps one big advantage of the 4.0 work environment is the increased free time it generates, which individuals can devote to startups or personal enterprise. If technological advances ease day-to-day tasks (at home, for example), and women have more time to think, innovate or train in using new technologies, they could become the top business leaders in many countries.

Reducing the gender gap at work in Latin America and the maximum use of women's soft skills will need the right public policies to facilitate access by women of different social strata to the various levels of education. States must act to reduce early pregnancies (through incentives to keep studying rather than procreating), and establish the unqualified homogenization of employment conditions.

Some predict that Artificial Intelligence is expected to supersede human intelligence by the year 2030. Women, who account for half of the world's growing population, must be fully incorporated by that time into the forefront of leadership to help ensure a sustainable future for all of humanity.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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