28 Apr 2020
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How women can turn emerging technology from a threat to an opportunity

Women need to embrace emerging technology as an enabler and a tool in their own branding.

I recently had the honor of lecturing at the EY and Henley Women in Emerging Technology Immersion Course. I was heartened by the positive outlook of all the participants, particularly the fervent social media activity around the event, and the findings of a delegates’ survey: 100% of respondents were excited by emerging technology and wanted to learn more about it, and 89% strongly agreed that it could provide new opportunities for career advancement and development.

Is emerging tech a threat or an opportunity for women?

However, there is another story that we collectively need to understand if this optimism is to be realized consistently. Without active engagement and change, emerging technology actually has great potential to impact the careers and livelihoods of women across all sectors and demographics – as it will for men as well.

Women and men need to be keenly aware of this and take conscious action in order for women to progress in their careers. Women need to embrace emerging technology as an enabler and a tool in their own branding, and adjust their skillsets to move forward in their careers and not be left behind.

The key is to turn emerging technology from a threat into an opportunity.

The impacts

It’s well known that increased education rates among girls drives GDP growth. In Asia-Pacific alone, an estimated US$89bn could be added to annual growth if women were able to achieve their full economic potential.1

But disruptive technologies are furthering the educational gap.

Worse, increasing automation is predicted to hit women’s roles disproportionately: women will lose five jobs for every job gained, compared to only three for men.

And it will perpetuate gender-based occupational segregation, with women often working in low-valued jobs that will be automated, further impairing their economic competitiveness. These roles include bank tellers, bookkeepers, auditing clerks and other roles in insurance and health care. Meanwhile, 80% of the world’s subsistence farmers are women, but on the whole they are not benefiting from the digital agricultural technology revolution that could increase yields by up to 60% and lift as many as 150m people out of poverty.2

In the tech industry itself, the lack of women in leadership roles in AI and robotics will perpetuate inherent biases against women – currently women hold only 20% of roles creating bots in major tech companies. The news that a major global brand had to shut down one of its key recruitment algorithms when it was found to be favoring men illustrates this situation. The algorithm was trained to vet applicants by observing patterns in resumes submitted to the company, most of which came from men, reflecting male dominance across the tech industry.

As machine learning deployments increase, developers will have to be especially conscious not to build bias into the code. Even though the insights that machine learning delivers are not inherently biased, nonetheless the data it learns from might be.

This is compounded by women not receiving the benefits of AI, robotics, blockchain or other emerging technologies, due to their lack of participation – or inability to participate. This can prevent women from acquiring the necessary skills to lead the development and application of such technologies. If this doesn’t change, the situation will get worse. Without greater access and suitable delivery mechanisms to emerging technology education, women will be unable to transition to occupations of the future.

And in consequence, women will remain under-represented among successful entrepreneurs, and face more obstacles than men in starting and growing their own businesses.

Recommended actions

The good news is that there are many ways we can act to head off this future.

For one, HR is key – conscious hiring decisions can revitalise women in the organization, and the organization itself. HR should instate reskilling programs to proactively target job roles that are most likely to have the greatest impact on women so that they maintain their employability and contribution to the economy. Most of the women impacted will be unable to transition to new jobs without retraining, on-the-job training and other transition programs.

Managers also have a major role to play. Another speaker at the EY Henley event was Dr Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj, Associate Professor, Henley Business School who is co-author of Championing Women Leaders. The book explores how championship is the key differentiator between women who achieve leadership roles and those who don't, and why it is so important for female executive development.

On a wider level in society, public relations and cultural awareness campaigns need to attract young women toward careers in emerging technology disciplines. There is some great progress already – for example, Code First: Girls, is a British social enterprise working with companies and women to increase the proportions of women in tech. Under CEO Amali De Alwis, in the past four years it has delivered over £4.2m worth of free tech education, taught more than 6,000 women how to code for free, and has helped companies recruit and train better tech talent in their firms. Amali is also spearheading a campaign to teach 20,000 women to code by the end of 2020.

Governments could utilize a portion of the financial benefits from productivity improvements due to automation to fund the cost of transitioning workers to new types of jobs. There could also be new fiscal, tax and other policies to reward corporations that have executive boards mirroring the diversity of their company, as well as tax-related or other incentives for retraining programs and paid time off to retrain.

Some of these are very ambitious ideas. But any organization could institute programs such as the EY Women in Tech initiative to make a difference straightaway. The key is providing a network to support women from diverse backgrounds to connect with leaders who are actively influencing the future of the digital world, and immerse them in the new emerging technologies while providing them with leadership insights and career growth strategies.

These are important steps to unlock human potential within the Emerging Technology field, to create new ways of engagement and to build a better working world.

Three things women should start doing if not already:

1. Keep your tech competencies up-to-date

  • Use social media such as LinkedIn to see which competencies are in demand and which are in decline in your career niche.
  • Regularly update your emerging tech skills and learn new capabilities using the plethora of free and paid-for online training courses.
  • Volunteer or get engaged in new emerging technology-related initiatives in your organization or communities – because the best way to learn is hands-on.

2. Build your network and ecosystem

  • Keep in touch with your contacts in other organizations and sectors. This will give you a greater sense of how emerging tech is reshaping the world of work for women – and how you can respond.

3. Know the facts and act on them

  • Call out male bias whenever you come across it at work.
  • Engage your colleagues to change for everyone’s benefit.


Increasing automation is predicted to hit women’s roles disproportionately to men’s. However, there are many ways we can act to head off this future.

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