Executive Briefing

The effect of automation on jobs; women leaders still lag behind men

By Dori Meinert Sep 24, 2014

1014-Cover.jpgAutomation: Job Killer or Creator?

Many are quick to blame automation for job loss and economic turmoil in today’s workforce. The mere suggestion of increasing automation can send ripples of fear through a workplace. But are robots really taking over as many science fiction movies forewarn?

Automation can eliminate jobs, but it also can create them, according to research from CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International.

In a national survey conducted earlier this year, 1 in 5 companies, or 21 percent, reported that they have replaced employees with automation. Among companies with more than 500 employees, the figure jumped to 30 percent. Most of the positions cut were in information technology, financial services and manufacturing.

However, 68 percent of those companies said technology adoption resulted in new positions being added at their organizations. In fact, more than one-third (35 percent) of companies that “deskilled” workers, or replaced them with automation, said they ended up creating more jobs than had existed prior to the automation.

While data entry positions (paying a median hourly rate of $14) declined by 16 percent from 2002 to 2014, company efforts to analyze “big data” created a demand for people who know how to interpret that data. Market research analysts saw a 28 percent increase in jobs, which pay a median hourly rate of $29.

“One of the greatest challenges the U.S. faces today is sufficiently preparing the workforce for the influx of more knowledge-based jobs that will likely result from progress in robotics” and other science, technology, engineering and math-related fields, said CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson, co-author of The Talent Equation (McGraw-Hill, 2013), in a news release.

While automation can increase efficiency, some companies found that expanding it backfired. Some 35 percent of companies that replaced workers with automation said they hired people back because the technology didn’t work well.

About 31 percent of employers predicted that certain jobs in their organizations will likely be replaced by technology to some degree in the next decade. Those areas most likely affected include:

  • Customer service (cited by 35 percent of respondents).
  • Information technology (33 percent).
  • Accounting and finance (32 percent).
  • Assembly and production (30 percent).
  • Shipping and distributions (25 percent).
  • Sales (17 percent).
The survey, which was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder from May 13 to June 6, 2014, included a representative sample of 2,188 hiring managers and HR professionals across industries and company sizes.

The Executive Gender Gap

While women have made strides in gaining top management positions, they still lag behind men considerably, according to an analysis of Fortune 500 companies by Catalyst, a nonprofit seeking to expand opportunities for women. Gallup data from 2013 shows that attitudes toward female bosses are slowly changing. About 41 percent of American adults said it makes no difference if their boss is male or female, while 35 percent prefer a male and 23 percent prefer a female. Women are more likely than men to prefer a male boss (40 percent vs. 27 percent).

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