- Advertisement -

The AI gender gap: What HR can do

Jess Von Bank, Mercer
Jess von Bank
Jess Von Bank is a 20-year industry veteran and impassioned evangelist of the modern experience of work and the future of talent. Jess is a former practitioner, an expert in bringing workforce solutions to market and a global thought leader on HR transformation, digital experience and workforce technology. She offers specialized expertise in recruiting, talent strategy, employer branding, DEI&B, brand building, and storytelling. She also runs the Now of Work, Mercer’s global community for HR and work tech. Jess is the president of Diverse Daisies, a nonprofit to enrich and empower girls. She lives in Minneapolis.

“The biggest shame trigger at work is the fear of being irrelevant.”

- Advertisement -

Brené Brown made that powerful statement in a conversation with Top 100 HR Tech Influencer Adam Grant, and I can’t help but think of it every time I read stats about the impact of AI on jobs. I think about disproportionate impact, too. Women are more likely to be in roles impacted by job displacement, and they are already underrepresented in fields experiencing job growth.

Low-wage earners are 14 times more likely than higher-paid counterparts to lose jobs to AI, according to McKinsey, and those jobs are often held by already vulnerable populations of workers. Mercer’s latest Global Talent Trends survey agrees; 54% of the C-suite notes women will be more adversely impacted by AI, as they hold more of the jobs expected to be disrupted.

Women are especially worried about artificial intelligence and fear it will harm their kids and their own personal wellbeing. A recent survey by Axios confirms that 53% of women won’t let their kids use AI products, while only 26% of men feel that way. Similarly, just 4% of women said they would let their kids use AI chatbots for any purpose, compared to 31% of men. Pew Research Center spouts similar stats around the fear of AI; in its research, women are more worried than men about AI being used to diagnose and treat medical illnesses.

So, the AI gender gap is significant. Women are more anxious about artificial intelligence and perceive it as less positive and more threatening than men do—but why? There are three big reasons, and understanding why the AI gender gap exists is critical so that HR can not only remedy it but also avoid the unnecessary and disproportionate impact of a technological revolution that’s already well underway.

3 reasons for the AI gender gap

Fears about economic uncertainty

AI will impact jobs, that much is clear, and there will be a disproportionately negative impact on women. AI-induced job losses will affect women without college degrees because those women disproportionately populate the entry-level jobs most affected by automation (administrative assistants, retail clerks, finance personnel, bill collectors, payroll clerks, executive secretaries).

It is also well established that women earn less than men, suffer higher unemployment and worry more about their economic security (please don’t pain me with pay equity citations; they’re everywhere). In general, women are worried the economic ramifications of AI will make current plights even worse.

Fears about personal security

Women think a lot about safety and online security—their own and that of their offspring. And for good reason: Women and girls are significantly impacted by the proliferation of fake nudes, deepfakes and similar AI threats. The Washington Post reports a 149% increase in AI-generated fake nudes since 2019; 96% of deepfakes are pornographic, and 99% target women.

- Advertisement -

AI also introduces a substantial risk for an increase in financial fraud, identity theft and online harassment. Generative AI is fresh arsenal for online fraudsters, giving them better ways to mimic identities for financial fraud, making identity theft generally easier and enabling more targeted cyberbullying. No need to limit distrust to AI, either; the online world, including social media, is a predatory place with greater negative impact on the wellbeing of women and girls in general. Distrust may be more natural for groups of people accustomed to being harmed, not helped, you could say.

Fears around mega change

Mega change can be thought of as large-scale transformation and disruption—mostly big, usually fast, often unexpected. It seems we’ve become connoisseurs of mega change, but that doesn’t mean we like it or have gotten all that good at it. How many of you are tired of being mega-resilient?

Women tend to worry about the impact of major disruption (economy, society, community) on their family units. Technological disruption is no different; some women fear it will keep them in a disadvantaged position at best and compound it at worst. AI may, in fact, increase inequality and reduce economic opportunity unless we approach it like we would any other innovation cycle—with design intent, by stating clear and compelling objectives for good, and through direct alignment of purpose to outcomes.

Bottom line and remedies

Workforce changes don’t have to harm women and other vulnerable people. We can design the deployment of technological innovation to carefully prevent this, but it starts with awareness and acknowledgment of valid fears and realities. Combat real and valid fears with real and valid actions.

1. Create representation

Governance and accountability have a role to play, but it’s more than that. When it comes to AI, it’s about making sure there is fairer representation in STEM, so every voice is included in the digital revolution. Promote female role models in AI to create a sense of belonging and inclusion. Literally show how you’re taking everyone on the AI journey, not just those brazen enough to spearhead.

Technological advancement tends to leave some behind. Said another way, not everyone has the privilege necessary to spearhead a technological revolution. Recognize and reward bravery by inviting everyone to the mission.

2. Offer protection

Revolutionary change often waits for no one, and it certainly doesn’t wait on regulation. But it shouldn’t disregard it, either. Apply tougher rules on digital crimes, demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy for online threats and cybersecurity violations, and protect vulnerable demographics from the new tranche of security threats introduced by artificial intelligence.

3. Promote equity

We need to ensure workforce policies promote equity for women in the age of AI. Employers should make sure the use of AI in the workplace doesn’t exacerbate existing barriers to access based on gender, race or nationality. We can also provide education, training and upskilling to make sure jobs displaced by AI are replaced by newer, higher-wage (hello, pay gap) jobs created by AI. Wouldn’t it be cool if AI elevated everyone?

Learn how global HR and tech leaders are confronting the AI gender gap at HRE‘s upcoming HR Technology Europe, May 2-3 in Amsterdam. Click here to register.