BRIDGE Report 14: Innovations in Work Organisation at Enterprise Level, Changes in Technology and Women's Employment

Author: S. Mitter
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Oct 1993
How have transformations in work organisation and technology affected women's employment in the past decade' This report analyses changes in work organisation and technology, with focus on the Just-In-Time (JIT) method. It argues that while women have gained quantitatively in some areas of work such as data-processing, work conditions have generally deteriorated. Due to their more limited access to training and education, women have generally been more restricted in adapting to new skills requirements and management techniques, and disadvantaged with respect to job security, wage levels and health and safety standards. Existing research has explored the impact of changes in urban employment quantity and quality generally, but the differential impact on women and men has not yet been the subject of detailed enquiry. Yet, without concerted efforts to provide women with relevant training and skills demanded by the rapidly changing working and technological environment, it is unlikely that they will be able to move up the occupational ladder and fully take advantage of new opportunities.

The globalisation of production and distribution of goods and services has created an increasingly competitive environment in which firms have generally adopted leaner, more efficient and more quality-conscious management techniques. These methods, combined with ever increasing technology, are currently affecting women's employment opportunities in the following ways:
- While women have benefited quantitatively from subcontracting, working conditions have generally deteriorated in terms of lower wages, declining health and safety standards and diminishing worker's rights and protection.
- JIT method draws from smaller scale subcontractors that are exempt from legal obligations (e.g. provision of maternity benefits), and which opt for the cheaper option of employing women at lower levels of pay.
- Increased new technology for information processing has provided many women with data-processing employment, however, more highly skilled programming and software development work is still dominated by men.
- The information-processing workforce, where women are heavily concentrated, faces many health risks associated with the intensive use of computers.
- Increasing demand for multi-skilled and flexible employees tends to disadvantage women, who have more limited access to relevant education and training.
- Biotechnology is affecting industries with high female employment levels such as food processing and pharmaceuticals. However, women generally lack the technical and managerial skills demanded by biotechnology.
- Some technologies such as robotics have replaced women in many areas of previously feminised labour-intensive work, such as assembly line work.

In order to ensure that women do not remain concentrated in the lowest-paid and least skilled sectors of the labour force, it is crucial that they are given appropriate support. Recommendations include:
- Training programmes to enable women to take advantage of self-employment opportunities that subcontracting offers.
- Computer literacy training to expand opportunities for women in longer- term, highly skilled and financially rewarding computer work.
- Training to diversify women's vocation-specific and transferable skills, particularly in technical and managerial areas.
- Creation of a common forum involving the International Labour Organisation (ILO), employer federations, trade unions and concerned government bodies, to formulate policy that promote women's opportunities both in terms of quantity and quality.
- More research into the effects of changes in technology and work organisation on women, with particular focus on changing quality of work conditions in terms of job security, occupational health and safety, training for long-term employment and wage levels.