Developments in artificial intelligence and automation have been heralded as a major leap forward in human advancement. But they could also adversely affect another important measure of societal progress: The gender pay gap.
The gender pay gap, the difference between average earnings for men and women; has been narrowing over recent years. Yet there remains a long way to go until compensation parity is reached — 202 years to be exact. And that estimate could grow even lengthier if progress is not made in bringing more women into the workforce.
That’s due to two major factors:
Firstly, many of the roles typically filled by women, such as administrative and customer service roles, are being “automated away” by new technologies. And, secondly, the types of roles that are growing, like machine learning and big data roles in the IT sector, happen to be ones where “the talent base of women is very small as compared to men.”
The shortage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professions is well chronicled. But the report notes how that gender disparity — often the result of historic gender biases — has visibly impacted the gender pay gap.
Secondly, not only is that harmful for advancing pay parity and gender equality more generally; but it also creates issues for the technology itself. After all, the ultimate goal of AI is to think like a human and mimic the way humans behave. If that intelligence is programmed almost exclusively by men, there’s a risk that gender biases will slip into the machines.
The report noted that some industries and institutions; are making progress in encouraging more women to become involved in emerging technologies. Chief among them were the education and health-care sectors and non-profits; where the talent pool of women in AI outweighed men. But it called for more work to be done.
“The diversity — including gender diversity — of views among innovators is vital to ensuring the economic opportunities created by AI do not increase existing gender inequalities, and that new AI system serves the needs of society at large,” the report said.