At a venture conference I went to last week, AI was about all anyone was talking about. (Just last year, I can clearly remember these same rooms being full of crypto jargon. This conference’s breakout session on crypto had about 10 people … including the three guys hosting the session.)
What a difference a year makes.
Because even as women claw back from the pandemic-related hit to their employment levels, they remained underrepresented at the invitation-only gathering.
Now the optimist in me would note that we just need time: After all, women make up 70% of valedictorians, are close to 60% of college graduates, and hold more than 60% of advanced degrees. So, in a professional sense, it feels like we’re on the move.
Women tend to cluster into majors such as journalism, English, nursing, and thus we head into those professions at higher rates. Which means that we’ve been entering careers that have been growing at slower rates than the average — or, worse, shrinking. (Think traditional media, ugh.)
This unequal archetype of career destiny could be the result of internalized societal messaging that women “belong” in more caregiving and service careers, while simultaneously being told that we “don't belong” in areas like STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).
So, back to AI, the consensus driver of innovation: Women today hold less than 30% of all global AI roles.
Not good, by definition.
But dig a level deeper and it’s not just about women missing out on the career opportunities and growth that AI promises. Because, adding insult to injury, without women and other underrepresented groups at the table, AI can perpetuate biases. So, yes, AI software can now (literally in seconds) scan resumes (reducing jobs in women-heavy HR departments), but research hints that AI also has a gender and racial bias and will be less likely to hire women. (*Eye roll*.)
Elsewhere, some predict that robots will replace teachers by 2027 – another women-dominated profession. And another place where bias can have far-reaching consequences.
So where's AI really taking us?
Look, of course, it’s not all bad. Just like with the dawn of the Internet (without blindly considering where it’s gotten us today), a good bulk of AI tech does exist to make our lives more easier, more livable, and more bearable.
And I’m not alone in asking questions. Vice President Kamala Harris and her team are set to meet with executives from Big Tech (Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI) to talk about setting guidelines that affect cybersecurity and economic factors. And there was also an open letter to halt the exploration of AI pursuits, to buy more time and think about just how much of our control we actually want to hand over to AI.
So I still wonder: How much of all of this talk and concern surrounding the potential dangers of AI trickles down to address the biggest challenges women are facing? And further, how can AI help drive the solutions?
Women are already dealing with gender gaps — not just in the workplace, but everywhere. If AI is already changing the future, how might we create a world where we use it to tackle the issues at the root?
I’m willing to try.