The entire conversation about the future of work is about men’s jobs – which of those male-dominated industries will be replaced by an army of androids and great crushing claws?
Where are women’s jobs in this talk of the future? Nowhere.
Right now, the future of robots at work is considered to be more important than the future of women at work.
Apparently, almost anything appears to be more important than a difficult gendered dialogue about work. Yet it is hardly surprising that men and male-dominated industries colonise this space – that’s just a continuation of past practice. Work is about men and women have been shut out; shifting the mindset is a hard grind.
So we should all be grateful for research released this week by the University of Sydney’s Women, Work and Leadership Group (WWLG), which confirms our worst fears. Women feel disrespected at work, says Rae Cooper of the University of Sydney; and that’s most explicit in their experience of sexual harassment. They feel as if every single aspect of their careers must be dealt with as individuals; not for them the team triumphalism of the patriarchy.
Women, so the narrative says, should keep their squad goals to gifs with Amy Schumer and Tina Fey but I’m not them and never will be them. Instead, as a young mother, I always felt isolated. Ambitious, yet breeders weren’t allowed to be ambitious. The WWLG research shows the pattern is the same.
Young women at work feel isolated; one in four women fear they will lose their jobs through shrinkage of their chosen industries; and only half feel valued at work. Let’s hope they don’t have a boss like mine at the time, who thanked me for “dropping in” when I ran out the door at 5.30pm. That was not flexible work .
Those who have flexible work experienced the disapproval of their colleagues who resented that flexibility. Get that. There are people in Australia who resent flexibility offered to other colleagues.
Let’s make sure those utterly horrible people never benefit from taxes paid by your kids. They can sort their own old age pensions and hospitals and rot in hell.
There’s a lot to worry about for the working woman but there’s one aspect which doesn’t worry women much – and that is the destruction of their jobs through automation.
Women think caring jobs can’t be automated. Who wants the cold clasp of a robot trying to help your baby latch on to your nipple? Who wants the droid to change the incontinence pads of the old people in the nursing home? We think that can’t happen.
But there is a much bigger risk to caring work than automation and that’s the gig economy, or as Elizabeth Hill from the University of Sydney calls it, the Uberisation of caring work.
Uber – not the first nor the last organisation to destroy labour rights and get workers to bid against each other to drive down the cost of work – has released data illustrating the gig economy has a gender pay gap too. (You know that thing about conditioning? Well, men apparently drive faster than women, being lovers of risk, and so do more jobs per hour. We start training for inequality early, don’t we?).
So when you apply Uberisation or appification of caring work, that might provide the best possible price for the service purchaser but doesn’t give a stuff about the rights of workers to be paid for their work, to have job security, to have safety and insurance and decent working conditions. And all this is set against a time when women are being told to save for the future! Think about superannuation! Buy a house so you don’t have to rely on public housing!
Does anyone think Uber – and other companies like it – contributes the super guarantee to those who drive for them? What care is there for the worker? You only had to check out this week’s report on the ABC’s 730 to find workers abandoned – with workers earning less than half the minimum wage.
So what will the gig economy mean for carers?
Carers bidding against each other – and Hill of the University of Sydney fears it will lead to a decline in the standards we’ve fought for.
“It is diabolical, this whole move to the Uberisation of paid care work and turning it into a gig – women will lose their economic security. “
I’m relieved some babysitting apps ensure their giggers have background checks but I looked at one and when I put in my postcode, it came up with a high school student whose only experience was looking after the children of family friends. There was no evidence of a police check.. And she was going to look after my putative baby for less than I paid a Karitane nurse to look after my firstborn in 1985.
Women in Australia have fought long and hard for quality childcare. When I took my kids to be cared for decades ago, Helen and Judy and Theresa all had qualifications, secure jobs and the beginning of superannuation – they weren’t paid enough but there was no bidding war.
When you think about the future of work, think about the workers who will be looking after your kids. Think about who will be helping you go to the toilet in the nursing home. Think about whether your own daughters deserve more than an insecure income and precarious work.
Mine deserve more and I bet yours do too.
Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a Fairfax columnist.