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.
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.