The fourth industrial revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, will involve increasing automation, advanced technology and promises to create more jobs in science, tech, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions. Indonesia has enthusiastically taken up the term and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has announced an ambitious road map toward Industry 4.0.
But the revolution also has the potential to disrupt multiple industries and those without relevant skills will be at risk.
One element that has yet to be reflected in the government’s planning is how Industry 4.0 will affect women. This is particularly relevant now, during a global pandemic. Across the Asia Pacific region, women have been the most affected by income and job losses associated with the Covid-19 crisis.
Recent years have seen a global discussion on increasing women’s participation in STEM professions. This push has been based partly on a wealth of experimental evidence demonstrating that men are not superior to women in terms of cognitive skills. Excluding women from STEM jobs is therefore a waste of the talent pool.
Further, the active involvement of women in the development of technology will help to ensure that innovations are relevant for the whole population, not just men.
The seatbelt is a classic example of one such ‘exclusion tragedy’. A study by the University of Virginia found that women are 50% more likely to be seriously injured in car crashes. This is because when the seatbelt was first introduced in the 1960s, its design was based solely on the physical attributes of men. It failed to take into account the specific safety needs of women.
Increasing women’s participation in STEM is particularly urgent in Indonesia, for several reasons. Over the past decade, women’s participation in the labour market has stagnated. The gender gap has remained largely unchanged. Even worse, in rural areas, younger females are opting out of the labour market altogether.
In 2019, only 18% of total working females were employed in the industry sector, encompassing mining, manufacturing, utilities, construction, and information technology and communications. For males, the figure was 28%. The difference was even starker in high-tech industries such as information technology and communications, where only 14% of women working in that sector had a position as professionals or technicians, compared to 31% of men.
Looking at STEM data, in 2018, only 12% of graduates with STEM majors in Indonesia were women. This number is comparatively lower than in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia (26%), Philippines (18%), Thailand (15%) and Vietnam (15%).
Significantly, there is no gender gap in overall figures for educational achievement. For example, in 2018, out of the population aged 25 years or older, both 10% of men and 10% of women had completed post-secondary education.
Further, female students in Indonesia record slightly higher harmonised test scores (PISA, TIMSS/PIRLS) in mathematics, science, and literacy compared to male counterparts. These competency and education completion figures demonstrate that the gap in STEM majors cannot be explained by the differences in ability or education opportunity.
Gender stereotypes may contribute to the gender gap in STEM fields. The belief that men are more likely to succeed in STEM than women is an implicit and usually unconscious one. But these stereotypes can be powerful because society is often not aware of them.
This gender bias is also present in the education system. A team of psychologists and economists ran a set of experiments that revealed gender bias in teachers’ grading of school students’ work. They found that this bias was derived from a strong perception that men were more “natural” in mathematics than women. Unfortunately, the researchers found that this bias tended to discourage women from taking STEM subjects in future studies.
In Indonesia, gender stereotypes are also influenced by cultural and religious conservatism. Compared to many other Muslim countries, Indonesia is often considered to have a more inclusive approach towards women’s participation in public life. But there has been a near constant tug of war between traditional and modern values. In February, for example, legislators, some of them women, proposed a new “family resilience” bill that explicitly promoted traditional gender roles. The bill, which is still under discussion, would limit women’s roles in non-domestic activities.
So how should Indonesian policymakers promote women’s participation in STEM? Affirmative action policies, such as quotas in STEM industries, are tempting, and could be effective in raising participation in the short term.
But reforms are also required to address structural problems. For example, what is the origin of the gender gap in STEM at a time when employees are not always required to be physically present at their workplaces? One plausible cause is the double burden that women face of paid employment and domestic work.
Addressing these causes for the gender gap would require tackling social norms that are “sticky”. This is a difficult challenge. But a recent study showed that many men are privately supportive of increased women’s labour participation. Once they realise that many other men held similar views, they are more willing to behave in a way supportive of greater gender equality.
Throughout human history, technology has been an important means of equalising the playing field between men and women. The first industrial revolution, for example, gave unprecedented opportunities for women to be involved in economic activity. Innovations in home appliances reduced the cost of staying out-of-home for work. The fourth industrial revolution will also affect women in new ways, and the public and policymakers need to be paying attention.
More studies are still needed, but one thing we already know for certain is that careless implementation of Industry 4.0 policy could lead to greater gender disparity. Indonesia’s industrial strategy should not leave behind the half of the population.
The Covid-19 crisis has already accelerated the adoption of Industry 4.0 solutions. It’s a race against time and longstanding gender stereotypes for Indonesia to adjust its response and ensure that the next industrial revolution can contribute to realising the dream of equal pay and work for men and women.
Author’s calculations based on national labour market survey, Sakernas, in August 2019.