Artificial Intelligence

Study Finds AI Threatening Many Women’s Jobs

concerned office worker
The rapid rise of artificial intelligence may pose a significant challenge to the female workforce, as many women's jobs could be at risk, according to a recent study.

A new report from a human resources analytics firm found that artificial intelligence threatens to replace a disproportionate number of jobs typically held by women.

According to researchers at Revelio Labs, their findings reflect social biases that have funneled women into roles ripe for AI replacement, such as administrative assistants and secretaries.

Revelio arrived at its findings by identifying around two dozen jobs most likely to be replaced by AI based on a National Bureau of Economic Research study. Then it identified the gender breakdown in those jobs.

Women held many of those jobs, it noted. They included bill and account collectors, payroll clerks, and executive secretaries.

“Women, as well as people of color, tend to be delegated into occupations that are repetitive in nature when it comes to tasks. That means that they’re going to be disproportionally impacted by any jobs that are fully automated,” observed Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Center for Technology Innovation and a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization in Washington, D.C.

“Those jobs have already seen a decline as a result of new technologies that have been introduced,” she told EmergTechNews. “However, AI has a greater likelihood to engage in roles where there is high repetition that can be automated. That automation often lends itself to low-level workers being outplaced.”

People Needed in Loop

Will Duffield, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, explained that if more women than men are in rote jobs involving computers, then they will be more affected by AI displacement. However, he was skeptical that all the jobs listed in the Revelio report required only repetitive skills.

“It seems outlandish to expect a paralegal to be replaced by AI,” he told EmergTechNews.

“The same is true of copy editors and auditors because, at the end of the day, you need humans to avoid making mistakes,” he said.

“AI may make workers more efficient, so there may be fewer jobs,” he continued, “but the idea that the jobs will be replaced entirely is quite speculative and overhyped.”

“AI will have to become much more reliable in order to replace people rather than just becoming just another tool in their repertoire that they have to decide how much to trust,” he noted.

“That’s not to say AI won’t become more reliable in the future,” he acknowledged, “but right now, all of this is quite speculative.”

“There should always be some human in the loop to ensure that the AI isn’t creating unnecessary biases or inefficiencies,” Turner Lee added. “You still need people to manage that.”

Facing Massive Disruption

Revelio’s warning about the impact of AI on women’s jobs echoes a similar one issued by the International Monetary Fund in 2018. At that time, the IMF projected that 11% of jobs held by women — a higher percentage of jobs held by men — were at risk of elimination due to AI and other digital technologies.

In financial services, for example, women represent almost 50% of the workforce, but they hold only 25% of senior management positions, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group. Senior management positions are usually insulated from shocks caused by automation, the report noted.

Women working in the sector, it continued, predominate clerical and administrative jobs that are at high risk of elimination, such as bank tellers, which are 85% females.

The report noted that pattern holds true across even female-dominated industries, such as health care and education, which are less threatened by automation.

The BCG predicted that AI will disrupt employment patterns on a massive scale in the coming years. It asserted that companies, governments, and individual women must be prepared to invest in reskilling for the new generation of jobs.

Duffield, though, recommended that workers think about the present rather than the future. “For the worker now, it’s much less about worrying about what new job you should train for because AI will replace yours than learning to use AI in the job you’re doing now,” he said.

Job Impact Hyped

Workers that embrace AI may be surprised by their productivity gains. “It’s saving me time and money in my company,” observed Deidre Diamond, founder and CEO of CyberSN, a cybersecurity recruiting and career resources firm in Framingham, Mass.

“I haven’t replaced people,” she told EmergTechNews. “I’ve been able to accelerate projects, accelerate work.”

Ida Byrd-Hill, CEO and founder of Automation Workz, a reskilling and diversity consulting firm in Detroit, also praised her productivity gains by using ChatGPT. “I wrote a proposal that normally takes 100 hours in 11 hours,” she told EmergTechNews.

Tales of productivity gains, though, are being overshadowed by dire — and somewhat distorted — predictions about AI’s impact on the workforce.

“The news cycle has included a series of ever-shifting claims about what impact generative AI systems will have on jobs,” maintained Hodan Omaar, a senior AI policy analyst with the Center for Data Innovation, a think tank studying the intersection of data, technology, and public policy, in Washington, D.C.

“The purported impact varies wildly from outlet to outlet, but the central message from the news media is clear — AI is here to take almost all the jobs, not just the blue-collar ones, the white-collar ones too,” she told EmergTechNews.

‘Hokum’ Claims

Omaar called many of the claims “hokum.” She cited a recent news article with the headline “OpenAI Research Says 80% of U.S. Workers’ Jobs Will Be Impacted by GPT.”

“The headline is eye-catching, emotionally resonating, and easily repeatable, but it is narrowly true and broadly misleading,” she argued. “The statistic comes from a research paper by OpenAI, but the paper doesn’t simply say 80% of jobs will be impacted. It says ‘around 80%’ of the U.S. workforce could have at least 10% of their work tasks affected.”

“That means the real statistic is that large language models might impact at least eight percent of work in the U.S. economy,” she continued. “A significantly less dramatic picture of the research findings but a more honest one.”

Omaar explained that concerns about AI taking jobs are based on the “lump of labor fallacy,” the idea that there is a fixed amount of work, and thus productivity growth, such as from automation, will reduce the number of jobs. But the data tells a different story, she continued. Labor productivity has grown steadily for the past century — even if that growth has been slower recently — and unemployment is near an all-time low.

“It is becoming more difficult to wade through the hogwash of claims about AI, but if readers, and more importantly policymakers, aren’t prudent, they will make decisions based on unfounded fears or hype,” she cautioned.

John P. Mello Jr.

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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