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Is artificial intelligence a rising threat to women’s jobs?

Author: Rajiv Singh/Sunday, October 28, 2018/Categories: Technology, Expert View

Is artificial intelligence a rising threat to women’s jobs?

Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Home are becoming household names and do not need much of an introduction. From setting reminders to looking up things on search engines, these artificial intelligence products do it all for us and been have weaved into our lives at different levels. But did you know there are finer customised AIs used by several companies. For instance, a leading online insurance portal sells over 70% of its motor insurances via AI on its website. Another leading bank has a similar AI which processes loans for its customers. Similarly, several MNCs are adopting AI in several ways. The Indian government too has a significant stake in the AI revolution, as acknowledged by NITI Aayog in one of its papers called National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence.

AI and automation certainly improve efficiency and increase productivity. However, it is also likely to disrupt our world. The ability of AI products to mimic human minds is invading the corporate workplace and gradually replacing human employees.

A recent paper by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) highlights that automation of work and implementation of AIs would accelerate at a high pace. It is also likely to result in replacing human workers. The paper also highlights that over 180 million global jobs of women could be consumed in this process, resulting in a wider gender gap in the workplaces. Agreeing to this, another report by World Economic Forum says automation poses a risk for over 1.4 million jobs in the USA alone, of which women perform 57 per cent. These are alarming numbers, considering the already under-representation of women in the workforce.

Automation and AI, when widely implemented are likely to consume 77% jobs in China, 75% in El Salvador and 69% in India. In fact, it could directly impact over 3 million in the Indian IT sector. The point of concern is that the 60% of companies in India hold over 20% women employees at a senior-level and over 51% at C-level positions, whereas women in IT hold 18% C-level position across the globe.

Prime Challenges:

Automation poses a threat to the employment of both men and women, especially those involved in routine tasks. Statistically, women worker’s Routine Task Intensity (RTI) index is 13% higher than men, indicating they engage in more routine tasks. Women with lower education, more than 40 years of age, and engaged in clerical, service, and sales positions are disproportionately exposed to automation, as automation of these jobs are easy and can facilitate in increasing the pace and productivity of the process.

Furthermore, sectors like engineering and information and communications technology are more susceptible to vast AI inclusion. These sectors already have a huge gender gap and AI replacement would further amplify women under-representation in these sectors.

Automation also holds potential to cut down the creation of new-jobs. Not only would this make it difficult for young female entrants, it would double the competition for older women incumbents, as they have to survive the race against AI and young entrants with possibly more qualifications and higher skill set.

Steps needed to empower women

An apt solution to this tectonic shift in jobs is reskilling. To empower women, they need to be endowed with skills and encouraged to update those skills regularly. They should be encouraged to pursue higher education and trained for vocational and technical skills.

Moreover, the education system should be reformed to provide women with more education and vocational and technical training opportunities.

Researches also highlight that men are likely to gain a job against every three jobs overtaken by AI and automation, whereas women could gain a job against every five or more jobs lost to the technology. This emphasises how this process is more vicious for the women workers.

A reassuring side of the current situation is that the women dominated sectors like health, education and social services are less likely to be affected by AI advancements, as these jobs require more cognitive and interpersonal skills. About 34% of the total female workforce is engaged in the sectors mentioned above.

Another women-dominated sector is textile, garment and apparel. It is also the second largest employer in India, after agriculture. It employs over 33 million people in India of which over 60% are women.

With developing technology, implementation of AI and automation of certain tasks is inevitable. However, some tasks are difficult to be automated. Moving forward, creative, compassionate, collaborative personnel could be highly preferred. In other words, AI cannot replicate social skills and every sector and company would require a set of professionals with polished social skills. And with this perspective, the employment of women seems brighter as these are some qualities that come naturally to women.

The author is the CEO of Karvy Stock Broking Limited.

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Rajiv Singh

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