Is AI Bad for Women?

  • October 30, 2019
NTT DATA Services AI Blog Post

AI-enabled automation has generated its share of controversy. We’ve all heard the predictions: 40% of jobs will be eliminated by AI, echoed venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee on 60 Minutes recently. And experts say this is even worse news for women. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women “… are 58% of the workers at the highest risk.” The reason? Women tend to hold the types of job ripe for automation: customer service and administrative positions that involve routine, repeatable tasks, according to the research.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) put it more bleakly, saying that “… women’s jobs have a 70% or higher probability of automation. This translates globally to 180 million women’s jobs.” Compounding the problem, the IMF states, women are underrepresented in the fields where jobs are growing, such as engineering and technology.

New technology has always sparked fear among those whose lives (or livelihoods) are touched by the technology. It was once thought that the introduction of ATMs would eliminate tellers. But, as I wrote in PaymentsSource, “The reality is that in the 45 years since their introduction, the number of tellers has more than doubled.”

Artificial intelligence powers the machines or computer programs that can perform tasks normally done by humans. You don’t have to think hard for examples of businesses using AI to improve and speed up processes or to cut costs. The obvious names are Google and Uber. But traditional businesses, too, are using AI in areas as varied as customer service (such as your bank’s chatbot) and fraud detection. But does AI represent an opportunity for women?

AI helps humans be more accurate, efficient and better at making decisions

While there is no doubt that AI-enabled automation will eliminate jobs as businesses look to cut costs, there are positives. “Using AI techniques to augment back-office work will drive greater employee productivity and increase employee (and customer) satisfaction,” according to Gartner, who predicts that “… in 2020, AI becomes a positive net job motivator, creating 2.3 million jobs, while eliminating only 1.8 million jobs.”* And, good news for non-techies: many companies are looking to fill the gap by hiring talent from non-tech fields, as my colleague Kris Fitzgerald reminds us in Forbes.

As we continue to see AI used to enhance both back-office and more creative roles, AI-enabled automation will give women (as well as men) the ability to make better decisions, perform more efficiently and effectively and focus on more strategic, higher-valued work.

For example, in the healthcare industry, radiologists now use AI to improve accuracy when reading and evaluating a medical image because accuracy is improved when you pair an AI’s reading with a human’s reading — versus relying on either one alone.

Morgan Stanley is using chatbox technology to help its financial advisors be more efficient decision makers. Employees use the tool to quickly sort through client data and find investment recommendations that are right for those customers.

Other top-tier banks are using AI systems to detect fraud and money laundering. By reducing the number of false positives, AI gives human investigators more time to thoroughly investigate each case. Rather than replacing investigators’ jobs, AI is helping them be more effective, enabling them to focus more time on complex cases.

A digital assistant created by fintech startup Emagia is trained to support operations. By anticipating the needs of the humans it supports, it helps eliminate friction from the business process and boost the performance of finance executives.

We’re also seeing financial institutions leveraging AI-enabled real-time voice analytics platforms in their contact centers to enable customer service agents to anticipate customer intent, understand sentiments and improve quality of customer interactions. As a result, clients have a better experience and agents’ after-call tasks are more efficient.

Preparing your workforce for this fundamental shift

AI represents a fundamental shift in the role of technology — from being a passive tool to being an essential actor to drive competitiveness for financial institutions. However, organizations must make deliberate investments to prepare their workforces for these changes. One area ripe for investment is the development of new, digital skills. This is particularly important because a growing number of IT leaders say the lack of IT talent is holding their organizations back.

Only 22% of AI jobs were held by women in 2018, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Therefore, AI presents a huge opportunity for women and for organizations seeking to foster gender diversity.

Research has shown that diverse companies reap greater financial returns. This is in part because a diverse workforce generates more innovation and can help prevent bias when it comes to prioritizing and implementing innovation. Companies that implement AI-enabled automation right — in a way that creates a diverse workforce while enhancing digital skill sets — will win.

So, how can financial services firms make AI work, not just for their businesses, but also for their workforces? Here’s a start:

  • Re-train employees for tech-centric jobs ranging from the designers creating new AI-enabled customer interactions to AI model trainers, data scientists and algorithm ethicists. Particularly focus on the employees, mostly women, who will be impacted by AI implementations.
  • Foster partnerships with women-owned (and otherwise diversity-focused) businesses as you consider your fintech and partnership ecosystem.
  • Develop a diversity/gender growth roadmap with well-defined goals and milestones in parallel with your cognitive-digital modernization roadmap.
  • Evaluate your gender debt from legacy practices alongside the tech debt of legacy systems and establish an action plan for remediation. Pave the way for value-centric modernization.
  • Build your business case and ROI for gender diversity by tying quantitative revenue growth metrics to incremental increases in diversity of your workforce.
  • Develop a leadership culture that is committed to including more women in leader, mentor and sponsor roles. A good example is Citigroup, which has committed to increasing “… representation [for black and female employees] at the assistant VP to managing director levels… ” in attempt to close a wage gap.
  • Inspire a new generation of women by communicating the social impact of an IT career. Smart factories can help slow climate change, and farmers using data analysis and AI can increase crop yields, writes Fitzgerald, who adds that meaningful work like this is important to the GenZ workforce.

AI-enabled automation can help businesses diversify its workforce, giving women opportunities to do more strategic, higher-valued work. But organizations must see this as a priority and purposefully tie the investments in diversity to business value to make this a reality! I’m proud to say that NTT DATA has done just that by establishing AI ethics guidelines to reduce the negative aspects of AI, including bias and social discrimination. We’ve also launched a diversity and inclusion plan with the goal of expanding the numbers of female managers and executives at our organization and ultimately helping to create a gender-balanced world.

Find out more about NTT DATA Services’ automation solutions for financial services organizations.

* Gartner, “Predicts 2019: AI and the Future of Work,” Helen Poitevin, Moutusi Sau, Svetlana Sicular, Eric Hunter, Cindi Howson, Kanae Maita, 13 December 2018.

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Kim Curley

Kim Curley has spent her career focused on the human side of business, enabling leaders and their organizations to do more, do better, and to thrive through change. As the Workforce Readiness Consulting Practice Leader for NTT DATA Services, Kim leads advisory consultants who deliver people-side consulting solutions that help our clients solve their most complex business challenges.

Kim is also a founder of Women Inspire NTT DATA, the company’s first employee resource group. She launched the Charlotte Chapter in March 2018, which she continues to lead, and serves as the chair of the global steering committee. She is also a published author and sought-after industry speaker on the topic of human and organizational impacts of automation and other advanced technologies and is the co-lead of the Talent Development Forum of the Executive’s Club of Chicago.

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