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Pandemic boost to tech and digital industries worsens gender job divide

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The boost given by the pandemic to the digital, automation and technology industries is set to exacerbate gender inequality in the workplace, as the new jobs being created are being taken largely by men.

The pandemic is driving a shift in companies’ use of technology, both official statistics and business surveys suggest, making the automation and digitalisation industries some of the few winners from this year’s economic turbulence.

Nearly 800,000 additional jobs have been created in computer programming and related services across the EU, the US, the UK, Japan and Australia so far this year, according to an FT analysis of official data. The number of other tech-related professional jobs in areas such as information technology and telecoms was also up in some countries, with men over-represented in both sectors.

This is in sharp contrast to the overall jobs market — unemployment has risen in most major developed economies in recent months. The worst-hit areas of work are low-paid jobs in swaths of the services sector, which tend to mostly employ women.

Across the 34 OECD countries, women are more likely to be in temporary jobs and in all of the member countries for which data is available, women are more represented in low-paid jobs.

“The pandemic may be contributing to a widening of the gender gap, including the digital gender divide and the gender pay gap,” said Mariagrazia Squicciarini from the OECD’s science technology directorate.

Line chart of In EU, UK, US, Australia and Japan (millions of workers*) showing Men have extended their dominance in computer programming jobs

Most of the jobs for which demand has accelerated since the pandemic first hit require skills which fewer women have acquired through training and education, such as those relating to IT, science and engineering, she said.

Shauna Olney, chief of the International Labour Organization’s gender, equality and diversity branch, warned that as a growing number of countries record a fresh uptick in coronavirus cases, “women continue to bear the brunt of the crisis”.

“For many women, Covid-19 threatens their jobs and livelihoods,” she said. “Prompt and effective measures are crucial to mitigate the risk of deterioration of working conditions and career prospects.”

Tech jobs grow . . . 

EU: Total jobs fell by 2.9 per cent in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. Employment in computer programming, consultancy and related services was up by 18 per cent.

Japan: Jobs in information and communication were up 9 per cent in September compared to the same month last year, despite a fall in overall employment.

US: Jobs in computer system design and related activities were down in October compared to the same month last year. But the fall was less than one-third the size of the drop in overall employment.

Australia: Employment in the three months to August fell 3 per cent, but the number of workers in computer system design and related services rose 11 per cent.

UK: The number of information technology and telecommunication professionals rose by a record amount in the 12 months to June, greatly outperforming the overall job market.

The ILO has called on governments to target support for hard-hit sectors and occupations where women are over-represented, to collect gender-related statistics to inform recovery plans as well as to design recovery packages that recognise unpaid care work.

Trudy Norris-Grey, who chairs Wise, a UK campaign for greater diversity in science, technology and medicine, said tech job advertisements were increasing as a result of “the amplification of technological transformation during this pandemic [that] is not only changing the way we work, shop, communicate, educate but also the way we have our behaviour analysed and are consequently informed”.

But, she said, “more men are filling these new openings than women” and to change this “we need all companies to accelerate the drive for gender balance, especially in technology . . . as it is central to all our lives” as well as being one of the sectors with “the biggest growths in jobs”.

…While jobs in some service sectors shrink

UK: There were 120,000 fewer sales assistant jobs in the year to June compared to the same period last year, the largest fall ever recorded.

Japan: The number of jobs in accommodation, food and drink services fell at an annual rate of 10.6 per cent in September, the largest since records began until the pandemic.

EU: Nearly 1.5m jobs were lost in retail and accommodation in the second quarter compared to the same period last year, the largest on record.

US: Employment in accommodation and food services shrank 18 per cent in October compared with the same month last year, the largest October annual fall since records began in 1990.

Australia: The number of jobs in accommodation and food services fell 15 per cent in the third quarter compared to the same period last year, the largest fall on record for that period.

Bar chart of % of workers (2019) showing Women dominate in accommodation  and food services jobs
Bar chart of % of workers earning less than two-thirds of median earnings (2019 or latest) showing Low pay affects women more than men

Jennifer Howard-Grenville, a professor at the University of Cambridge, said that tech workers shape goods and services as “algorithms are not neutral and reflect the unconscious assumptions of their developers”.

However Ms Squicciarini noted that occupations related to caring and clinical and diagnostic support, in which women make up a significant proportion of workers, have also seen a rise in demand for workers.

Claudia Hupkau, assistant professor of economics at CUNEF (Madrid) and associate at the London School of Economics’ centre for economic performance, said the big hit to female-dominated sectors was mitigated by women being “overrepresented in sectors that have been defined as critical to the Covid-19 response, such as healthcare”.



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End of an era as Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona part company

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Lionel Messi updates

Barcelona football club said on Thursday that Lionel Messi, widely regarded as one of the greatest of all players, is leaving because of “financial and structural obstacles” that it blamed on financial regulations imposed by La Liga, which runs the top two divisions in Spain, requiring the team to rein in its spending.

Messi, the frontman of FC Barcelona’s success for more than a decade, will be leaving a club where he has spent the entirety of his career, winning every leading trophy and personal accolade.

Messi and Barcelona had intended to sign a new contract on Thursday but ultimately the player and club were forced to separate, said Barcelona in a statement, adding that both sides “deeply regret” their split. La Liga declined to comment.

“Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations),” Barcelona said. “As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled.”

Messi’s exit comes as Barcelona and rivals Real Madrid are at loggerheads with La Liga over the Spanish league’s plan to partner with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, which plans to invest €2.7bn in the league, subject to clubs’ approval.

The exit of the superstar Argentina international, who earned a total of more than €555m between 2017 and 2021, according to Spanish newspaper El Mundo, underlines the financial pressures at Barcelona.

The Catalan club sunk to a net loss of almost €100m in the 2019-20 season, the first to be disrupted by the pandemic, as revenues of €855m fell short of the €1bn set in its budget. Its debt has soared north of €1bn. In June, the club approved a €525m debt refinancing.

On the pitch, Barca finished third in La Liga, its worst showing since 2008. It has not won the Uefa Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club tournament, since 2015.

The decision comes just days after Barca president Joan Laporta said the club “have to make sure” Messi stays and that the process was “on the right track”. The president had also called for “greater flexibility” from La Liga.

Despite the long affiliation between Messi and Barcelona, the player last year told the club he wanted to leave but ultimately decided to stay on to avoid a legal dispute.

Messi’s departure comes a day after La Liga agreed a €2.7bn deal with US private equity group CVC Capital Partners to buy a minority stake in a new entity that would manage broadcast, sponsorship and digital rights for the league.

Barcelona and arch-rivals Real Madrid, which have been embroiled in a dispute with La Liga over plans for a breakaway European Super League, would stand to receive about €260m each from the deal with CVC.

The transaction was partly seen as a way to win over the support of Barcelona, which has been financially constrained by La Liga’s rules from making any high-profile acquisitions or renewal of contracts.

Real Madrid also lashed out at the CVC deal with CVC on Thursday, questioning its legality and accusing the Spanish league of negotiating the agreement without the club’s knowledge.

Barcelona followed up later on Thursday by joining Real in condemning La Liga’s planned partnership with the buyout firm. The club said: “FC Barcelona feels it is inappropriate to sign a half-century agreement given the uncertainties that always surround the football world. The terms of the contract that La Liga is describing condemn FC Barcelona’s future with regard to broadcasting rights.

“FC Barcelona wishes to express its surprise at an agreement driven by La Liga in which the teams’ opinions, including those of FC Barcelona, have not been taken into account.”

Spanish football clubs have yet to vote on the CVC agreement. Italy’s top football league, Serie A, turned down a similar agreement a few months ago.



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Europe targets adolescents for Covid jabs to curb Delta spread

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Covid-19 vaccines updates

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose habitual garb in public is a dark suit and tie, switched this week to a black T-shirt to encourage the young to get vaccinated over the holidays. 

“Many of you have questions or are scared,” Macron said in one of several videos he posted on TikTok and Instagram from what seemed to be the presidential holiday residence in southern France. “So I’ve decided to answer your questions directly. Go ahead.”

He has also posted short videos to correct misconceptions about the vaccines and France’s supposedly “freedom-killing” insistence on health passports to access bars and other public places. “Vaccination saves lives, the virus kills — it’s as simple as that,” he said in one. 

Macron may be one of the EU’s more visible leaders to urge the young to be jabbed, but he is not alone. 

On Wednesday, the UK belatedly extended its Covid-19 vaccination programme to 16- and 17-year-olds. But across continental Europe, governments from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean have already been targeting as yet unvaccinated teenagers to fight rising infections and hospitalisations driven by the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus.

This vaccination drive, which anticipates the new school term starting in September, is partly why Europe has already overtaken the US in terms of vaccination rates per 100 people and, on current projections, will soon overtake the UK too.

In France, health ministry data show that more than 40 per cent of those aged between 12 and 17 have already received one jab, and nearly 20 per cent are fully vaccinated. (In the vulnerable age group between 70 and 80, full vaccination coverage is close to 90 per cent.) 

Chart showing that Europe and the US have already vaccinated millions of teens, leaving the UK far behind

Most Nordic countries have also started to vaccinate teenagers and, by the end of July, almost one-third of 12-15 year-olds in Denmark had received at least one jab. “We need the immunity of the population, especially before a winter season,” Soren Brostrom, head of the Danish health authority, said in June when announcing the decision.

Much the same is true in Germany, where more than 900,000 adolescents or 21 per cent of those aged between 12 and 17, have received at least one jab, and more than 10 per cent are fully vaccinated. 

Individual German parents and children already have had the legal right to get vaccinated since June, and several states had begun limited offerings of the jabs to 12-17-year-olds.

But health minister Jens Spahn announced on Monday plans to offer more jabs to youngsters before school begins. “This is absolutely not about applying pressure,” he said on RBB radio. “It is about giving those who want to be vaccinated, including children and adolescents, the opportunity.”

The next step in Europe will be to vaccinate young children, especially as Delta strain infections seem to be rising fastest among the unvaccinated young. In a recent UK study, almost a third of the positive Delta variant tests came from people aged 5 to 17.

“It’s clear that children under 12 will become the main reservoir of infections once a large share of the over-12 population is vaccinated,” said Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva. 

“It seems reasonable today to suppose that we’ll only be able to finish with this pandemic by vaccinating a very large share of the population, perhaps 90-95 per cent, by including children,” he said, noting that the jabs would have to be supplemented by other measures such as continued border controls as well.

In Spain, which has already overtaken the UK and the US in vaccinating its population, the government says its inoculation drive must now focus on younger people. 

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has declared that the country, where 59 per cent are fully vaccinated, deserves “the gold medal for vaccinations”. This week he said the country was on course to fully vaccinate 70 per cent of its population before the end of August.

But officials increasingly recognise that will not be enough to provide “herd immunity”. Infection rates in Spain — now in its fifth coronavirus wave — remain extremely high, with cases particularly prevalent among people in the 12-19 and 20-29 age groups; in the former, the full vaccination rate is less than 4 per cent.

High infection rates among these groups — with a 14-day rate of above 1,300 per 100,000 people — have spilled over to older groups. The 14-day rate among the over-eighties has been close to 300, even though according to official figures that age group is 100 per cent vaccinated.

“What is happening in Spain shows quite simply that the vaccinations do not have the same efficiency that was indicated in the trials . . . It is going to be more difficult to reach herd immunity,” said Rafael Bengoa, a former Basque region minister for health and director at the World Health Organization. 

He said the Delta variant — now accounting for more than 75 per cent of Spanish cases — was a key factor blunting vaccines’ impact and argued that the necessary level of protection would now probably require full vaccination for closer to 90 per cent of the overall population.

“We are only going to achieve this when we have revaccinated older people who are losing protection relatively quickly and when we have vaccinated young people and children,” he said. “The end is further away than we predicted.”

Additional reporting by Richard Milne in Oslo





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Global house prices: Raising the roof

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Global house prices: Raising the roof



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