4th Industrial Revolution: Expanding the Gender (In)Equality in Higher Education
Thu, 27 Dec 2018 || By Sri Handayani Nasution

The discussion on the impact the highly automated future expected in the fourth industrial revolution is not novel, yet only a few discuss the effect of such structural changes and dynamics upon the issue of gender equality, or in this article, the gender inequality.

The risks of job loss is still one of the main concern of scholars when one talk about 4.0 Industrial Revolution or 4IR. It is predicted that automation and the use of highly sophisticated machine will replace labors in a lot of sectors.[1] The advancement of technology then also affect the demand of workforces in the future, with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematic)  faculty becoming one of the key growth area.[2] In these two aspects, women still become one of the vulnerable stakeholder in facing the changes that come with 4IR. Job loss impact female worker more than their gender counterparts,[3] the underrepresentation of women in STEM faculty still become an issue even in the area where a well-funded and well-targeted initiatives to tackle this problem has been implemented.[4] In explaining about the provision of workers in the future, the discussion of the aforementioned problems in the sphere of higher education then becomes essential. Therefore, this writing discussed the urgency of gender perspective in the future higher education, where it will focus more on the impact of where this gender sensitive approach is lacking in two more specific concern: the representation of women in higher education and the gender insensitive approach in knowledge production.

First, we expect that the increasing number of female enrolment in higher education will result to a higher number of women who are able to land a strategic position in the workplace. However, even if the enrollment rates of women in higher education is rising, the number of female dropouts still remain in the status quo, especially in Asia.[5] This happens because of the patriarchal beliefs that still intact in the social norms in a lot of countries. The social preference of masculinity over femininity is reflected in gendered social division of men and women, where women then is still associated and restricted only within the domestic sphere. The rate of women enrolling in future higher education in some areas affect the employment rate of women in the workforces, where it is found that the lower rates of women in higher education then contribute to the level of women unemployment.[6] Even if finally women enter the workforces, the low level of education that they have then force them to work in informal sectors or low-paid jobs that provide limited to no insurance. Report from ILO (International Labor Organization) emphasize that women outnumber men in percentage of occupying jobs in the informal sectors[7], with an estimated 37% of clothing industry workers are women homeworkers in Thailand; 60% of women and child homeworkers in the same industry in Chile; and also in Australia with 15 homeworkers are estimated to exist for every factory worker.[8]

This gendered reality is also the main cause of the representation of women in STEM area. The masculine-exclusive association of science and mathematics realm with masculinity, hinder the participation of women in this sector.[9] The beliefs that women is not as capable as men in this sectors is still internalized within the society. This is reflected in the existence of structural barriers for women in this industry such as the existence of wage-gap, the gender-bias recruitment, and the non-accommodative research environment of women’s ideas within this sector.[10] This further reduce the initiative of women to enroll in this area, thus reflected in the disproportionate number of female-male enrollment ratio of STEM faculty. With the STEM faculty becomes one of the key growth sector in 4IR, the lack of women presence in this faculty then will impact in the gender inequality as few women are seen as qualified with the new standard of workforces demand.

Second, higher education is a central stage for the society’s knowledge production. The lack of gender sensitive approach in higher education is crucial in this aspect. Gender insensitive analysis that happen in researches produce in higher education sustain the gender biases of the presence of women in workforces. The perception of women as domestic being is still reflected in the researches that question women’s productivity in workforces: for instance researches still emphasize on the capability of women to balance family-work problem as obstacles.[11] This domestic-public division between masculine and feminine then also contributes to the society’s biases on the existence of women in workforces. Because women are still expected to perform their traditional duties at home while working at the same time, often women are hindered to a higher position in their carrier.[12] For instance only 14% of women hold board seats, and only a mere 2% of women is in the CEO position in financial service sector, while other sectors also show a similar number.[13] Studies has concluded that balancing between family and work is not seen as the problem for the women as they’ve expected the demand that comes with their job[14] yet these kind of studies are overshadowed by lots of knowledge that sees issue is  as a problem by the society for women to meaningfully participate in the area where masculinity is glorified and associated.

The lack of gender sensitive approach in higher education will further widen the gender gap in the current status-quo. The problem of gender inequality has been addressed for a long time. However substantive and meaningful solutions to address these problems are still needed. This writing outlines some of the problems of gender inequality in approaching the new era of industrial revolution. To respond to that, I  see there has been a lot of concerted effort to raise the public’s awareness upon this issue, for example: WISE Campaign (Women into Science and Engineering) and UN attempts to tackle the gender imbalance in STEM by making the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.[15] More of awareness raising initiative is needed in preparing ourselves for the 4IR, especially in the level of Higher Education. The initiative to ensure that women will not self-sabotage of their capability in STEM is also essential, specifically to ensure that more young girls are aspired to enter the STEM sector. Holistic approach to tackle the issues of gender inequality in society is essential as this problem is intertwined with a lot of other structural and cultural issue.

Editor: Anisa Pratita Mantovani

Read another article written by Sri Handayani Nasution

[1] Keywell, B. (2018). The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about empowering people, not the rise of the machines. [online] World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-is-about-people-not-just-machines/ [Accessed 2 Dec. 2018].

[2] World Economic Forum, Accelerating Gender Parity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Agenda for Leaders to Shape the Future of Education, Gender and Work. (2017). White Paper, p.02.

[3] Howcroft, D. and Rubbery, J. (2018). Gender equality prospects and the fourth industrial revolution - Policy Network. [online] Policy Network. Available at: https://policynetwork.org/opinions/essays/gender-equality-prospects-fourth-industrial-revolution/ [Accessed 2 Dec. 2018].

[4] Smith, E. (2011). Women into science and engineering? Gendered participation in higher education STEM subjects. British Educational Research Journal, 37(6), p. 1010

[5] Cliff, V. (2018). The Fourth Industrial Revolution could smash gender inequality – or deepen it. [online] World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/03/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-could-smash-gender-inequality-or-reinforce-it/ [Accessed 2 Dec. 2018].

[6] ibid

[7] Australian Government (2011). Women and The Informal Economy. Office of Development Effectiveness, p.5.

[8] ibid

[9] Smith, E. p. 997

[10] Xu, Y. (2008). Gender Disparity in STEM Disciplines: A Study of Faculty Attrition and Turnover Intentions. Research in Higher Education, 49(7), p.621.

[11] These researches can be found in this journal and its references: Wang, M. and Degol, J. (2016). Gender Gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): Current Knowledge, Implications for Practice, Policy, and Future Directions. Educational Psychology Review, 29(1), pp.119-140.

[12] Smith, E.

[13] World Economic Forum

[14] Xu, Y

[15] United Nations, International Day of Women and Girls in Science 11 February. [online] Available at: http://www.un.org/en/events/women-and-girls-in-science-day/ [Accessed 25 Dec. 2018].