Women and AI: Potential for Progress

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Investing in women is worth it – even just halving the pay and employment gap between men and women could raise the level of GDP across both developed and emerging markets by 5% to 6%, according to Goldman Sachs Research’s research paper: Women (Still) Hold Up Half the Sky.

Our economists found strong progress through the 1990s and early 2000s with more women entering the workforce, narrowing the employment gap with men – but the momentum took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent years, generative artificial intelligence (AI) has gained momentum with headlines claiming that it will be (or is already) changing work as we know it. Goldman Sachs Technology analysts estimated that up to a quarter of current work tasks could be substituted by AI in the US and Europe.

But what does this mean for women in the workforce?

On one hand, it’s estimated that women are more exposed to jobs impacted by AI, with 60-70% of the workforce in these areas such as caring professions are made up by women. They are also underrepresented in some of the jobs least likely to be impacted, such as construction or maintenance.

But before jumping to conclusions, it’s important to consider how the development of AI will change the nature of jobs themselves as this offers a more encouraging picture.

Our colleagues believe that roles that require a high degree of face-to-face interaction, or caring professions – both areas where women dominate – are likely to be made more productive via AI and are unlikely to be supplanted by it. This is particularly encouraging as enhanced productivity should in turn push up wages and may help narrow the gender pay gap.

Beyond this, the development of AI may have implications that have second order beneficial impacts for women such as getting more women into the labor force as the working population declines , while complementing tasks with AI to help alleviate some of the shortages.

AI could also help upskill the workforce, helping elevate women to step into higher expertise roles. For instance, a new research paper by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s economics professor David Autor argued that AI could go beyond productivity and empower the middle class to step up into roles requiring higher expertise due to its capacity to weave information and rules to support decision-making behind roles that require higher knowledge.

This could improve access and remove barriers for women who already have complementary knowledge to step into roles that are overwhelmingly held by men, including software engineering and the broader technology industry.

What still needs to change?

Goldman Sachs Research have found women are underrepresented in leadership roles in technology. Research believes this finding is worrisome at a time when developments in AI could have large influence on economies and jobs, and this could have lasting effects on gender equality.

For instance, our colleagues noted women make up just 20% of AI and data professionals, citing Alan Turing Institute data. A UNESCO paper argues too few women participate in AI-related jobs globally – only 18% of authors at leading AI conferences are women and more than 80% of AI professors are men. Only 14% of AI peer-reviewed articles worldwide were authored by women.

Lack of women in the development of AI may lead to biases in datasets used to train AI systems such as, bias for hiring, as AI systems are fed with the current set of “successful” employees which includes bias gaps.

However, our Technology analysts argue that over time, generative AI could help increase accuracy where underlying data models are retrained with improved information. In areas such as healthcare, generative AI could help improve imbalanced and unrepresentative datasets that are often overly dependent on men in clinical trials.

Previous technological revolutions have coincided with rising female participation

Reassuringly, looking back over past technological revolutions, women’s participation in the labor market actually rose, concurrent with waves of new technologies. In the last 50 years or so, women’s participation in the labor force grew from 43.3% in 1970 to 56.2% in 2020, with its peak at 60% in 1999.

As we face another new wave of change with generative AI, our colleagues stress the importance of continued education in girls and women to ensure they benefit from the latest technological revolution.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this website were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA, Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.