SDG5: Meritocracy, Technology and Universal Basic Income

I can’t think of any profession where having a penis is a guarantee for better job performance. And yet, having one gives professionals with penis a much better chance to receive a higher salary than the professionals without one.

In the last few decades, we have come a long way in closing the gender pay gap. However;

  • In terms of economic participation, the gender gap will take 257 years to close.
  • Globally, only 55% of women (aged 15-64) are engaged in the labor market as opposed to 78% of men.
  • There are 72 countries where women are barred from opening bank accounts or obtaining credit.
  • There is no country where men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work as women. (WEF)

There is no merit in having a penis. I did nothing to get one. I was born with it by pure chance of a genetic lottery. For that reason, I don’t see why in the modern days having or not having it should give anyone a greater advantage. The only advantage there should be is the ability to perform. In other words, meritocracy.  

The good news is that we are getting there. Still, the truth is that the future of the labor market is becoming gender neutral but not because of ideological reasons. It is becoming gender neutral amid technology.

Automation, robotics, and AI don’t have gender. New technologies are pushing forward greater labor efficiency where the remaining non-automated tasks require high cognitive capacity and/or minimum physical effort. As an illustration, it means that “talented coders are needed to help our technology advance. But we will still need folks to do packaging, assembly, sales, and outreach”, as Amy Webb wrote.

In the so-called production sector, shareholders want to see a return for their investments. They see automation, robotics, and AI pushing forward greater efficiency, and having a penis or not is nowhere in the picture. Male and female employees are expected to deliver and neither feminism nor machism is among the indicators of productivity that appear on the balance sheets. But it would be a mistake to only consider remunerated work in the so-called production sector. Unpaid, care work and particularly the public sector have an enormous contribution to the collective welfare.

Most social security systems are (still) based on contributions linked to remunerated work, independent or salaried, the inferior income of women, their restriction to part-time jobs as well as the interruptions in their careers due to care responsibilities will directly impact the level of social protection they can expect in case of old age, disability, illness and so on, as well as expose them to depend on a partner and/or the (welfare) state”. This can change through the introduction of Universal Basic Income which would help “social security systems to keep up with the challenges they face: increase of inequality and persistence of gender inequality, recurring economic and financial crises, technological change and globalization and their effects on jobs (number and quality)  and social protection, demographic evolution and migration patterns.”.

Given the fact that women today have more power as voters than as shareholders, it is apparent that the change is coming faster within the public than in the private sector. In Sweden, for example, more women than men currently hold management positions in the public sector. At the same time, 46% of Swedish members of parliament are women, while the proportion in other Nordic countries is around 40%.

This is important to keep in mind because, if the state does not intervene regarding gender-equality, gender norms will be determined by other less visible forces, such as the power dynamics within households. In the conditions of crises, like the one we are witnessing today under the Covid19 pandemic, these power dynamics can easily escalate into domestic violence and other types of gender-based violence. According to the UN, during 2019, some 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner. During the pandemic, the global estimates alarm an increase in domestic violence from 30-40% more reported calls for help.

While keeping in mind that Universal Basic Income as a policy “might have the (unintended) consequence of encouraging a return to the breadwinner model of parenting, with one parent better able to stay at home, but another parent still needing to remain firmly attached to the labour market”, we should not forget that it does leave wide open a strong possibility that the “firmly attached” parent might be a woman.

With meritocracy, technology, and Universal Basic Income, we might not need to wait 257 years to close the gender pay gap. We could take a giant leap away from the binary vision of gender as two separate and distinct opposites.

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