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Sci Tech

Women and Robots: A Marriage Made in Heaven?

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Headlined to H4 12/31/13

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(Article changed on December 31, 2013 at 15:40)

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/95830791@N04/8748671434/: The Pew Research Center published Census findings that women are enter the workplace with a four year degree at high rate, than men.
The Pew Research Center published Census findings that women are enter the workplace with a four year degree at higher rate, than men.
(image by vivelesrobots)


Women and Robots: A Marriage Made in Heaven? 

By Ali Hangan

General Motors recently announced Mary Barra would become their new CEO starting January 2014, representing a new first for the automotive industry. The move by GM highlights a slow shift toward more women assuming the helm of global industry.

In a seemly-unrelated series of competing media blitzes, Amazon and Google each have dominated the national press in a dueling match of one-upmanship, in a race to establish the global standard in robotic technology.

The simultaneous rise of women in industry and robots in the modern economy may be just coincidental, but some trends may suggest that the relationship between robots and women have the makings of a very productive relationship.

Robots have been making their way into industry since the 1960s, when Joe Engleberger and George Devol introduced UNIMATE, a robotic arm, into General Motors's manufacturing plants in 1961, and by 1969, GM was the most automated manufacturer in the world.

Fast forward to 2013, a technological perfect storm of robots, Internet, and Cloud computing has set the stage for a globally integrated supply chain, connecting regional markets across the globe. 

In light of more integrated globalized industry, workers have had to adopt new skills moving from working in silos to a new ethos of collaboration.

For reasons of nature or nurture, women are more suited to adapt to the modern workplace according to John Gerzema and Michael D' Antonio, coauthors of The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future. They argue that the future of work will be lead by women. The authors took a proprietary survey of 64,000 people their general finding points out that, "feminine leadership and values are now more popular than the macho paradigm of the past, the most innovative among us are breaking away from traditional structures to be more flexible, collaborative and nurturing."

Although women may be more inclined to be more collaborative, challenges of getting women into the high-tech workplace still remain.  A 2011 report from the US Commerce Department noted that there has not been significant employment growth in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) for women since 2000. Furthermore, women hold less than 27 percent of computer science or STEM-related jobs.

Despite challenges of women getting into the STEM fields, the Pew Research Center report on Social and Demographic trends offers some glimmer of hope. Women are entering the workplace more educated than men, making up about 47% of the workforce. Pew published census data findings, that showed the cohort of women 25 to 32 years of age, entering the workforce with a 4-year degree, has increased from 20 percent in 1970 to 38 percent in 2013, out-pacing men of the same age by 7 percent, only 31 percent of whom enter the workplace with a 4-year degree.

Since 2007, NASA and General Motors have held a strategic partnership in the development of Robonaut 2, a robot that will be sent into deep-space exploration. GM has licensed nearly 50-patented technologies thus far, and many are starting to appear in their factories.

It's a safe bet that GM's shareholders did not tap Ms. Barra to become CEO out of any sense of meeting a diversity quota; with billions of dollars at stake, they choose her because she is the most able to lead GM. If workplace trends continue, look for more women leading us all into the robotic age.

 

Ali M. Hangan is a Desert Storm Veteran, High School Economics teacher, and writes on trends in Technology and Education.
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