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AI threat to workplace gender equality: Did we not see this coming?

AI threat to workplace gender equality

Picture a machine possessing cognitive abilities comparable to the human mind, capable of transforming our lives and reshaping our work environments. Sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, doesn’t it? Well, this vision is now our reality, thanks to the advent of accessible AI systems. Among these, one of the most renowned AI systems, ChatGPT, has experienced an astonishing surge in popularity. A mere two months after its launch in November 2022, the number of active monthly ChatGPT users skyrocketed to an incredible 100 million. It is evident that AI is becoming increasingly vital in our daily lives. However, it also raises concerns, particularly regarding gender equality in the workplace.

Concerns related to use of AI

One of the major concerns linked to AI is its potential impact on the workforce. Many experts predict that the rise of AI will lead to the replacement of human workers with automated systems, possibly exacerbating wealth inequality. The World Economic Forum projected in 2020 that AI would replace a staggering 85 million jobs by 2025. What makes this more worrisome is that the jobs most vulnerable to replacement are often held by women. For instance, roles such as customer service representatives, receptionists, bookkeepers, proofreaders, and retail workers are at risk. In 2021, an astounding 69.5% of customer service representative jobs in the U.S. were held by women, and in 2022, an overwhelming 91.6% of receptionists were women. Career experts report that women make up 60% of accountants and auditors in the United States, and 66.8% of copy editors and proofreaders are also women.

Addressing the potential gendered impact of AI on the workforce requires proactive measures. The World Economic Forum does offer a ray of hope by projecting the creation of 97 million jobs in emerging sectors that may be less susceptible to AI encroachment, such as data analytics, software development, and information security. However, a significant obstacle lies in the fact that many of these roles require coding and related skills, an area where women globally face significant disadvantages. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported that in 2020, only 19% of women in the least developed countries used the internet, compared to 62% of all men globally, let alone possessing coding skills.

Time for action

To combat this digital divide and empower women, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society organizations (CSOs) must take action. Comprehensive training and educational initiatives specifically designed for women in these sectors need to be launched. By equipping women with the necessary skills, we can turn what could have been a disastrous job displacement scenario into an opportunity for personal and professional growth. This approach will enable women to not only adapt to the AI revolution but also thrive in it, armed with the knowledge and abilities required for future jobs.

The future of work in the AI era presents both challenges and opportunities. It is crucial to ensure that women are not left behind in this technological revolution. By empowering women with relevant skills and creating a more inclusive environment, we can strive towards a future where the benefits of AI are distributed equitably and gender equality is strengthened across all sectors of society.

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