Artificial Intelligence and Gender Equality: Is AI a Friend or Foe of Inclusion?

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Uncover AI's gender gap bridging potential by erasing biases in recruitment and pay, amid bias encoding challenges. Explore inclusive skill and leadership initiatives, addressing ethical concerns for a diverse, equitable tech-driven future.

In a world marked by rapid technological advancements, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a transformative force, reshaping industries and challenging traditional work dynamics.

As AI integration becomes increasingly pervasive, it is imperative to assess its influence on various aspects of our society.

This article embarks on a journey through the intricate web of AI’s effects on gender equality in the workforce, unraveling both its promises and perils.

The Current Landscape of Gender Equality in the Workforce

Before delving into the intersection of AI and gender equality, it’s essential to understand the existing challenges.

Gender disparities persist across industries, with women facing barriers to employment opportunities, wage gaps, and leadership positions. According to WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, the global share of women in leadership roles was 31% last year (although shares vary by industry.)

In 2022, only select industries had levels near gender parity in leadership:

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  • Non-Governmental and Membership Organizations – 47%
  • Education – 46%
  • Personal Services and Wellbeing – 45%

At the other end of the range were:

  • Energy – 20%
  • Manufacturing – 19%
  • Infrastructure – 16%

The report also noted that women occupied only 27% of managerial positions worldwide. 

Further, the Gender pay gap in the UK 2022 report suggested that last year, the gender pay gap for all UK employees was approximately 15.5%. And according to UN Women, as of January 2023, there were only 34 countries where a woman held the position of Head of State or Government.

These discrepancies reflect deep-rooted biases and stereotypes that continue to hinder women’s progress.

Unveiling the Potential of AI in Advancing Gender Equality

While challenges remain, AI offers hope for a more equitable future.

One of its most promising facets is the potential to eradicate bias from recruitment and hiring processes. AI algorithms, if properly designed and trained, can help eliminate inherent biases, allowing for fair and impartial candidate selection. 

For example, it can be used to analyze large volumes of applicants or to find workers with a niche skill set or level of experience. 

Moreover, AI-powered tools have been instrumental in identifying and rectifying pay disparities. For instance, the UK government published the first-ever guidance earlier this year to help employers measure ethnicity pay gaps in the workforce, using AI, among other tools. The guidance will allow businesses to do so meticulously without placing an unfair burden on them.

This is just one example of how AI can be used to promote fairness and equality in the workplace. 

However, it is important to note that there are also concerns that AI can exacerbate inequality if not regulated and monitored properly.

The Shadows of Bias: AI and Gender Inequality

AI systems, like any other technology, are susceptible to encoding existing biases present in training data. This can perpetuate or even exacerbate gender inequalities. The “black box” nature of AI decision-making processes makes it challenging to pinpoint and rectify biased outcomes. 

For example, Amazon discontinued the usage of an AI-based recruitment tool back in 2018 that exhibited a bias towards male candidates in technical positions. The company’s team of machine-learning experts identified a significant issue: their newly developed recruitment software displayed a bias against women.

There are also concerns that AI systems that measure personality can lack reliability and be integrated into hiring without the knowledge of recruiters or applicants. 

To tackle these issues, regulation is on the way. Earlier this year, a New York City law restricted the use of AI tools in the hiring process. These rules, effective from 5 July 2023, regulate the use of AEDTs and AI by employers, requiring bias audits and disclosure to employees and job candidates.

Meanwhile, in the EU, things are still largely unregulated. A 2021 proposal aimed to regulate AI usage in hiring, potentially influencing various aspects of the hiring process, including job vacancy advertising, application screening, and candidate evaluation.

However, its implementation might be a lengthy process.

Skills, Training, and Upskilling in an AI-Driven World

Enabling women with pertinent skills is of utmost importance to leverage the possibilities offered by AI. As this technology continues to reshape various sectors, ensuring women’s access to training and upskilling endeavors becomes pivotal. 

For instance, the Microsoft AI School, operated by Simplon, offers an AI training program that works toward narrowing the gender gap and introducing new talent to Europe’s digital workforce.

Established in 2018, the school focuses on assisting women, refugees, individuals with disabilities, and those pursuing career transitions to enter the realm of AI. 

Another notable effort is the Deloitte Women in AI initiative, which seeks to enhance awareness about the repercussions arising from the insufficient representation of women in the field of AI.

AI Leadership: Breaking Glass Ceilings or Reinforcing Status Quo?

The representation of women in leadership roles within the AI sector itself warrants examination. As AI becomes a driving force in technological innovation, diversity in leadership becomes even more critical.

For example, IBM has been actively promoting gender-inclusive leadership in AI. In 2021, the tech giant recognized Women Leaders in AI, honoring women pioneering AI in their businesses.

Feminist Internet is an additional company at the forefront of advancing gender-inclusive leadership in AI. They have created a chatbot named F’xa, aiming to amplify awareness about biases inherent in AI systems, particularly voice technology.

Similarly, Project Q is dedicated to enhancing inclusivity in voice technology by developing a “gender-neutral voice assistant.”

Future Prospects and Recommendations

The intersection of AI, gender, and privacy introduces complex ethical considerations. The collection and utilization of personal data by AI systems raise concerns about data security and privacy breaches, with potential repercussions disproportionately affecting women. 

Striking a balance between technological advancements and safeguarding individuals’ rights is a challenge that policymakers and organizations must collectively address.

Looking ahead, the trajectory of AI’s impact on gender equality holds both promise and uncertainty. To ensure a positive outcome, collaborative efforts are required. Policymakers, businesses, and educational institutions must unite to formulate strategies that harness AI’s potential for gender equality. 

Efforts such as UNESCO’s Ethics of Artificial Intelligence Recommendation and the inaugural worldwide framework for AI standards lay the groundwork for fostering transformation through research and advocacy. 

Similarly, the WEF’s Women in AI initiative stands as another illustration, working towards reducing the gender equity disparity in AI by showcasing the accomplishments of women trailblazers within the domain.

The Bottom Line

In the ever-evolving landscape of AI and gender equality, our choices today will shape the future for generations to come.

The potential to create a more equitable workforce through AI is within our reach, provided we address biases, invest in skills, and champion diversity at all levels.

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Alessandro Mascellino

Alessandro is a multimedia journalist who has spent five years freelancing for several publications, including Techopedia, Infosecurity Magazine, The Independent, and Android Police. Specializing in the realms of emerging technology and video games, he has recently established his own game studio. As a narrative designer, he specializes in creating games where your choices shape the unfolding story, and is is currently working on a game project.