Davos WEF
Davos WEF

Tech can help women ‘leapfrog’ men in the workplace: Manpower CEO

Karen Gilchrist, Digital Reporter | Carolin Roth, Anchor
Peter Dazeley | Getty Images

Developments in technology can give women a chance to "leapfrog" their male counterparts and correct workplace gender imbalances, according to the chairman and chief executive of ManpowerGroup.

The ability of technology to improve efficiencies, facilitate learning and increase flexibility in the way we work will allow women to develop new skills and build on their typically higher education levels, Jonas Prising told CNBC in a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday.

His comments come amid wider concerns over the impact of technology on the future of the workforce, with research predicting that the job roles most likely to be displaced by automation in the future will be those typically assumed by women.

"There is nothing predestined in how technology is going to be applied," Prising told CNBC panel chair Carolin Roth.

"If you believe that lifelong learning and learnability is going to be a key driver of your employability, women have a great opportunity to leapfrog based on their educational background and reset their competitive contribution," he said.

Nothing predestined in how tech will be applied: CEO

According to Prising, educating employees will be one of the fundamental tasks of CEOs as they seek to adapt to new levels of automation in the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" and the resultant polarization of the workforce and society.

"We believe that the polarization of the population is, to a large degree, caused by the polarization of the workforce, between the haves and have-nots in terms of skills. Those that can participate, or knowledge workers, can participate and prosper; those that can't, or feel that they won't, are already reacting.

"Clearly hard and soft skills are going to be very important, but over time we think that speed of change is accelerating and a key determinate of your employability is going to be your likelihood to acquire new skills."

As such, ManpowerGroup is currently establishing the 'LQ' – the learnability quotient – to help indicate the ability of an employee to develop new skills.

Nevertheless, fellow panellist Ulrich Spiesshofer, chief executive of technology company ABB, highlighted the "clear need" for a greater drive towards gender balance across industries, particularly science and technology.

In the U.S., fewer than five percent of college graduates are engineering majors, with fewer still – just two percent – being women.

Greater things ahead for women in the workplace?

For Spiesshofer, the impetus is on employers, government and educational institutions as a whole to address that gap and mitigate the potential negative impacts of gender imbalance going forward.

It is here that technology could in fact advantage women, said , chief executive of EY, by removing unintentional bias in the hiring process.

"In some ways, robotics can remove that unintentional bias by objectively looking at criteria, and so I think there's optimism there."

He added: "We cannot be successful in creating jobs if 50 percent of the workforce is left out."

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.