What Jobs Will AI Replace? The Disproportionate Impact on Women

KEY TAKEAWAYS

AI's impact on jobs varies by gender, with women facing higher replacement risks. The digital divide exacerbates this disparity, limiting women's access to AI-driven opportunities. Women's underrepresentation in AI and STEM fields can lead to biased technologies. Addressing these challenges requires inclusive AI development, enhanced digital literacy, and supportive policies.

In the evolving landscape of the global job market, many ask, “What jobs will AI replace?”. This is a crucial question, especially considering how it affects men and women differently.

The transformative power of artificial intelligence (AI) is undeniable, yet it presents unique challenges for women. Women face a much higher risk of being replaced by AI in the workplace.

This problem isn’t just about equity; it’s about the fabric of our global economy and societal progress. When half the population faces potential job loss, the ripple effects are vast — from economic growth to innovation, from community stability to global competitiveness.

Dive into this nuanced exploration of AI’s impact on gender in the workplace and discover why championing women in the AI era is not just a matter of fairness but an urgent necessity for a thriving future.

What Jobs Will AI Replace? Gender Disparity in AI’s Impact on Employment

When considering which jobs AI will replace, we see that AI changes the global job market. Data indicates that AI is more likely to replace women’s jobs than men’s jobs.

A report by the International Labor Organization (ILO, 2023, PDF) states that AI could replace around 4% of jobs held by women worldwide. In contrast, only 1% of male employment is at similar risk. In high-income countries, the gap is even more significant: 8% of female jobs face the threat of automation, whereas only 3% of male jobs face the risk.

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This isn’t just about individual job losses; it’s about the broader economic implications. If a significant portion of women face job displacement, entire sectors could be destabilized, affecting economic growth and innovation.

However, the question of “What jobs will AI replace?” is not just about job loss. A report by UNESCO highlights that AI is also bringing about the need for new digital skills – yet a significant portion of women globally don’t even have access to the internet or essential digital skills.

Although women make up nearly half of the global population, 259 million fewer women use the internet compared to men (ITU, 2022). The gap is especially pronounced in lower-income nations, with 21% of women online compared to 32% of men, which has not improved since 2019. There are many reasons for this, including cultural and social norms, unsafe access routes to public ICT facilities, or financial constraints.

What jobs will AI replace: Percentage of female and male population using the Internet, 2022

This digital divide directly affects sectors undergoing rapid technological changes, like finance. As AI-driven tools become common, women in traditional roles need to adapt.

However, they first need foundational digital literacy and access before they can even learn about AI-driven finance tools. Without addressing the root issue of internet access and basic digital skills, efforts to upskill women for the AI era risk being ineffective. The challenge is not just about introducing women to AI but ensuring they have the foundational skills to engage with it.

The Role of Women in the Labor Market: What Jobs Will AI Replace?

As the debate around “what jobs will AI replace?” continues, it’s crucial to look at the roles women often hold in the workforce and how AI might change them. The data from the ILO report reveal that the gendered impact of AI stems from the significant number of women in clerical roles.

Many women worldwide work in clerical roles such as secretaries, accounting clerks, and bank tellers. These positions, which have grown in high-income countries over the past decade, are at high risk of being replaced by AI.

24% of clerical job tasks are highly exposed to the risk of AI automation – and another 58% of clerical job tasks have a medium-level exposure. Accounting for both levels of exposure, 82% of clerical job tasks are exposed to the risk of AI automation at an above-average level (ILO, 2023).

What jobs will AI replace: Tasks with medium and high GPT-exposure, by occupational category and (ISCO 1-digit)

This is in contrast to the other occupational groups, in which the highest share of highly exposed tasks varies between 1% and 4%, and the medium-exposed tasks do not exceed 25%. Even assuming large margins of error, the result is still striking.

Economic Implications and Women’s Rights in the AI Era

The loss of jobs held mainly by women could slow the rise in women working. The right to work — chosen freely and conducted in safe, fair conditions — is a fundamental human right (UN, 1948). Therefore, ensuring that women have this right is crucial. Ultimately, 70% of women want paid employment (ILO, 2017) – translating to about 35% of the global population.

Moreover, there’s a strong economic argument – working women offer vast economic benefits. For example, the G20’s 2014 plan to close the work gap between men and women by 25% by 2025 could add 189 million jobs. Countries with significant gaps between men and women working would get most of these jobs, about 162 million, potentially raising the global GDP by 3.9% by 2025, translating to US $5.8 trillion (ILO, 2017).

However, it’s essential to understand that the introduction of AI doesn’t mean there will be fewer jobs overall but that the kind of jobs will change. The real concern is that women might miss out on these new AI-related jobs. If women don’t get the right skills or opportunities, they might be left out. This means fewer different voices in the workforce, which can make it less creative and effective.

Ultimately, GDP isn’t just about job numbers; it also shows how well the economy is doing regarding new ideas and products. Teams with both men and women are often more innovative, adaptable, and productive. Their unique insights, creativity, and innovations might be lost if the AI future doesn’t include women. This could slow down the economy in ways not immediately discernible from mere job statistics.

In short, while AI might keep or even grow the total number of jobs, diversity in those jobs matters, as it can change how well the economy grows. This shows why it’s so important to understand what jobs AI will replace and the potential impact on women.

The Gender Gap in AI and STEM Fields

While the risk of AI replacing traditional roles held by women is evident, it’s equally crucial to address the sectors where women are underrepresented, especially those driving this technological revolution.

The UNESCO report (2023) highlights the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, especially in AI design and development. This isn’t merely an issue of equity. The lack of female representation can lead to AI technologies that inadvertently neglect or misinterpret the needs of around half the global population.

The Stark Reality: Data on Women in STEM and AI

Data from the World Economic Forum reveal the gap. While nearly half of all workers are women (49%), only 29% work in STEM roles. This isn’t because there aren’t enough female STEM graduates, as more and more women are studying STEM. 59% of women in data and AI hold a graduate (or postgraduate) degree compared to 55% of men (The Alan Turing Institute, 2021).

What jobs will AI replace: Share of women in the workforce, by seniority level and STEM occupation status

However, many face challenges in staying in STEM jobs long term. Women make up 29% of entry-level STEM roles, but very few women manage to climb the corporate ladder. Only 18% of female STEM workers become Vice Presidents, and an even smaller share (12%) reach C-suite roles (WEF, 2023, PDF).

The field of AI underlines this trend. Between 2016 and 2022, AI jobs increased sixfold. However, the number of women working in AI grew slowly. As of 2022, women comprised approximately 30% of the AI workforce – a mere four percentage point increase since 2016 (WEF, 2023).

Overall, women working in AI and data science in the tech sector have higher turnover (i.e., changing job roles) and attrition rates (i.e., leaving the industry altogether) rates than men (The Alan Turing Institute, 2021).

What jobs will AI replace: Job turnover and attrition rates men and women

Female representation is needed to design AI technologies with broad perspectives to ensure a diverse and inclusive AI future. Therefore, there’s a pressing need to promote STEM education for women and girls. Initiatives like scholarships for women in AI or mentor programs with top female tech leaders can help.

However, it is clear that these initiatives alone are not enough.

The high turnover and attrition rates among women in AI and data science roles raise pressing questions. Why are women leaving their jobs or the industry altogether? What challenges are they facing in the workplace that lead to these decisions?

It’s imperative to delve deeper into the workplace culture, policies, and practices that might inadvertently push women out. Organizations need to foster an environment where women feel valued supported, and see a clear path for career advancement.

Addressing and Redefining Gender Stereotypes in AI

With more women in AI development roles, there’s a greater chance to fix existing biases in AI technologies. However, the journey is fraught with challenges. The UNESCO report (2023), for instance, underscores concerns about AI’s potential gender biases. This is not just a theoretical issue; real-world examples provide tangible evidence. Amazon’s 2018 experience serves as a cautionary tale in this regard.

The company stopped using an AI-based recruitment tool in 2018 because it showed a bias toward male candidates for technical positions. Amazon trained the system on resumes submitted over a 10-year period – the problem is that most of them came from men. Essentially, the AI learned to favor male candidates. It marked down resumes mentioning “women’s,” like “women’s chess club captain.” It also gave lower scores to graduates from two all-women’s colleges.

This Amazon example underscores the broader challenge: understanding and addressing how AI reflects and can reinforce societal views on gender. Beyond just the design and application of AI, it’s crucial to recognize how these technologies intersect with women’s societal roles, both professionally and domestically. AI systems, especially in their current design, can inadvertently perpetuate gendered stereotypes, a concern highlighted in the UNESCO report.

Reinforcing Gendered Stereotypes in Care and Assistance

As the UNESCO report (2023) outlined, many virtual personal assistants often come with default female voices. This might reinforce the stereotype that women are helpers, not leaders. In fact, because of this societal expectation, fewer women work. This is evident when seeing the 40 percentage point difference in working rates between men and women with children under five years old (IDB, 2019).

Promoting an Unbalanced Model of Flexible Working

AI can help with flexible work arrangements but might also strengthen the narrative that women should mainly do home and care tasks.

The UNESCO report (2023) cites multiple studies from the COVID-19 pandemic era, showing that women globally took on more unpaid home and care work, making a known gap even more significant.

This means women have less time to upskill and reskill – tasks necessary to keep up with the development of AI technologies. In fact, women often see family responsibilities as a reason they can’t participate in education and training more than men do (OECD, 2018). This can make women pick flexible jobs or fit societal expectations, making it harder to abolish gender norms in the workplace.

Solutions for Gender Implications of AI

Addressing the effects of AI on women requires a multi-faceted approach. Here are some potential solutions:

Promote Gender-Inclusive AI Development:

  • Bias Detection and Correction: Implement AI auditing tools to detect and correct gender biases in AI algorithms. Regularly review and update these tools to ensure they remain effective.
  • Diverse Development Teams: Make sure that women and other underrepresented groups are included in AI development teams. A diverse team can bring varied perspectives, reducing the chances of unintentional biases.

Enhance Digital Literacy and Access:

  • Digital Literacy Programs: Launch programs specifically designed for women to enhance their digital literacy skills. This can be done in collaboration with educational institutions, NGOs, and tech companies. Women need to be equipped with the knowledge to understand, critique, and navigate AI systems.
  • Affordable Internet Access: Collaborate with telecom companies to provide affordable Internet packages, ensuring more women can access online resources and training.

Support Women in STEM and AI Careers:

  • Mentorship Programs: Establish mentorship programs where experienced women in STEM and AI can guide and support newcomers.
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Recognize the unique challenges women might face, such as caregiving responsibilities. Offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate them.
  • Safe Workplace Environment: Implement strict anti-harassment policies and create a supportive workplace culture where women feel safe and respected.

Collaborative Initiatives:

  • Public-Private Partnerships: Governments can collaborate with tech companies to offer scholarships, internships, and training programs tailored for women.
  • Community Engagement: Engage with local communities to understand cultural and societal barriers that women face and work collaboratively to address them.

Policy Interventions:

  • Gender-Inclusive Policies: Governments should formulate and implement policies that protect vulnerable groups, especially women, from potential biases AI might introduce or perpetuate.
  • Research and Data Collection: Fund research initiatives that focus on understanding the gendered impacts of AI, ensuring that policies are evidence-based.

Raise Awareness:

  • Campaigns and Workshops: Organize awareness campaigns and workshops highlighting the importance of gender equity in AI. Use real-world examples to showcase the potential risks of gender biases in AI applications.
  • Engage Male Allies: Encourage men in AI and tech to advocate for gender equity and support their female colleagues.

The Bottom Line

AI’s influence on the job market is clear, but its effect on gender differences raises concerns.

As AI plays a more significant role in society, it’s vital to watch for its impact on gender gaps. Clear facts demonstrate that we must equip women with the necessary digital skills and include them in developing AI technologies. Pushing for more women to work in AI and boosting digital literacy are good moves. However, governments, organizations, and the public must work together to make sure that the AI-driven future is inclusive and equitable.

At this key moment, thinking about what jobs AI will replace and the role of gender is crucial. The goal is a world where AI empowers everyone, regardless of sex or gender.

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Maria Webb
Technology Journalist

Maria is a technology journalist with over five years of experience with a deep interest in AI and machine learning. She excels in data-driven journalism, making complex topics both accessible and engaging for her audience. Her work is prominently featured on Techopedia, Business2Community, and Eurostat, where she provided creative technical writing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours in English and a Master of Science in Strategic Management and Digital Marketing from the University of Malta. Maria's background includes journalism for Newsbook.com.mt, covering a range of topics from local events to international tech trends.