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2018: AI, Women, and The Future of Leadership

Photo by Brooke Lark

According to the US Department of Labor, the third most common occupation for women consists of secretary and administrative assistant roles. Along with the second (registered nurses) and first most common professions for women (elementary and middle school teachers), these 3 occupations make up 13.3% of the women workforce. Interestingly enough, women have filled 94.5% of all secretary and administrative assistant roles since the 1950s.

Digging deeper, in 2016, the median weekly earnings of women secretaries and administrative assistants was $708 ($36,816 in annual income). That’s not enough to live in any big city in the US. Imagine, to live in New York you need a yearly salary of $86,446.

With a female workforce that has a large percentage in the secretary and administrative assistant roles, wages that are too little to live in any major US city on their own, you’d think things couldn’t get any worse. But, unfortunately, they can get worse (thanks to AI).

Career automation calculators show that secretaries and administrative assistants have a 96% probability of complete automation. That means that you can confidently expect AI to take secretary and administrative assistant jobs out of the market. For women in these roles today, it’s time to look at alternative careers.

If picking an alternative career from the US most common women’s occupations list, I would recommend for women to work in the education and health sector because statistics show that these areas have the lowest potential for automation. That said, it would behoove me not to recommend to women to bite the bullet and go into the tech industry. With an expected 2.4 Million tech unfilled jobs in 2018 and tech jobs growing at 30% year-over-year, women can help fill the demand gap.

Ladies call to action: go out there and get some technical skills. The low supply of tech talent and high demand of it will serve you well. If you’re not convinced, here are some benefits to look forward to, if you take a plunge into tech: (1) high salaries (expect +2Xs a secretary/assistant salary), (2) flex-time, (3) location independence, and more.

What are you waiting for, ladies? Join the women in tech community. And if you’re wondering how to break into tech, take a look at this post.

How will AI change the makeup of our workforce?

In general, AI will eliminate many traditional jobs through automation. You can check to see if you’re safe or doomed (and what percent probability) online. You can go to this job automation calculator or this McKinsey job automation Tableau table.

While AI is eliminating jobs, AI is also creating jobs. Just consider, that while AI is on the rise, so is the list of unfilled (tech) jobs — and analysts predict the gap of talent will only increase with time. Now, let’s take a look at the top AI companies: Google, Facebook, Baidu, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, and Amazon. They are putting more money into AI, leading with AI, and, instead of reducing the number of employees, these companies are increasing employee count on an annual basis.

Data Source: Mattermark

There is an opportunity for women to jump into the tech job pool of opportunity and create and manage AI. The alternative is finding yourself out of a job down the line, and, instead of managing, being managed by AI. I recommend you aim for the former.

Will AI be able to liberate women from traditional secretary like jobs? If so, how?

AI will liberate women from traditional secretary like jobs through automation. The best way to circumvent being out of a job is to find one with a current smaller percentage probability of being automated. That said, no jobs are “safe,” and the best bet is to jump on the continuous education train (via MOOCs like Coursera and Udacity) and get into the tech sector (where there is a high demand but low supply of talent).

What are the possible consequences of AI on the diversity of the workforce if not harnessed correctly?

Let’s start with the fact that AI amplifies the human behavior of the programmers creating it. That’s a problem because the lack of diversity in the backgrounds of AI creators will continue to produce biased algorithms. And there are plenty of examples of biased algorithms. For example, last year Microsoft released Tay, an AI bot on Twitter, that learned to tweet anti-semitic messages; startup Beauty.AI released an app that only identified white people as beautiful; and there are recent studies that show that some AI algorithms show sexism, associating women with the home and men with careers.

What all this means for AI and diversity in the workforce is that recruiting, promotion, and retention algorithms are likely to be biased. To address biased algorithms, we must audit and adjust them. If we don’t correct biased algorithms, we can expect bias to continue — worse, you can expect AI to magnify diversity bias — and we can forget about a workplace that embraces inclusive diversity.

It’s a bit sad, though, that we can audit and correct algorithms, but no one seems to care about it. Consider that leading mathematician and author of Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil set up shop to help companies audit their algorithms for bias, and she has “no clients right now.”

The light at the end of, what I see as the dark AI diversity tunnel, is made up of startups, such as Pymetrics, Textio, HireVue, and Mya, who acknowledge the existence of a biased workforce and use AI to combat it. That said, even if the intentions of these AI startups are to address bias, if they are not careful with their data, these AIs can end up promoting the vicious bias cycle.

I think we can address AI bias more aggressively if diverse talent creates AI, all the while accepting that we cannot rely on tech to be perfect (because humans, the creators of it, are not perfect).

Why are you optimistic or pessimistic about the impact of AI technology on the future of leadership?

As a woman who has been in tech for a decade, it’s hard not to be optimistic about tech. After all, tech has improved the state of the world. For example, it’s due to technology that global (1) poverty has declined from over 80% in 1820 to under 20% in 2015; (2) literacy rates had increased from under 20% in 1800 to over 80% in 2015; and child mortality has declined from nearly 50% in 1800 to under 10% in 2015. Naturally, I don’t believe in what Elon Musk says about AI being a “threat to human civilization;” I am optimistic about AI in the world and the future of leadership.

In the future of leadership, I see AI helping business leaders: (1) focus their attention on what is most relevant to the creation of value (e.g., AI can aid leaders to answer questions such as: what markets should we expand into next? What products and services should we add/remove from our portfolio?); (2) be more efficient (e.g., AIs can augment a leader’s intelligence and take care of about 20% of CEO’s tasks, leaving leaders more time to focus on more strategic activities); (3) allow leaders to create products and services that are custom and satisfy their consumers; among other things. With AI, I imagine a world where leaders lead organizations that provide excellent customer experience, increase productivity, accuracy, and more. Can you imagine the same?

On the side of realism, leaders will need to keep a pulse on the use of ethical and responsible AIs (which is currently subjective and under research by organizations such as OpenAI) and understand technology as it relates to business. AI, and tech in general, is no longer a topic only for the technology team of the company; AI, and tech in general, is essential to the future of leadership and the C-Suite.

Currently, less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Do you think AI will have any impact on changing this ratio?

Big market and tech shifts create the opportunity for new entrants to make big wins. We’ve seen this with cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) making nobodys million- and billionaires. In the same way, if women capitalize on the shift of market and AI technology, I see a window to changing the disappointing single digit female to male ratio in the Fortune 500 C-Suite. If you do a simple Google search, you’ll notice that AI is something that’s penetrating the C-Suite boardroom and that the C-Suite must retrain to understand and manage an AI strategy for their company. The thing is that there is a considerable gap there — many male CEOs are touching on the topic but have no idea what’s going on (acquiring AI companies does not mean that they know what’s going on). So, there you go, here’s a brilliant opportunity for women to roll up their sleeves, show up (after all we’re the most educated sex!), and show that we can lead in an AI world.

Of course, this isn’t going to be easy, and it’s going to take a lot of work. Below are my thoughts on how women in school and the professional world can leverage the AI market and tech shift to change the C-Suite ratio.

Dear women students: Take on a STEAM degree (please reverse the declining number of women in computer science), get a job that allows you to grow in tech, find yourself a community that supports you and stick to your path all the way to the C-Suite. Haters gonna hate but you need to keep your chin up and go for the win.

Dear working women: Don’t believe the myth that says women are bad at tech, science or math. Take on assignments that get you exposed to tech and take online courses (start with Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course on Coursera). It’s okay if it’s overwhelming at first (everything often is when it’s something new) and keep going. Know that you are going up a societal wall that invites isolation, hostile male-dominated work environments, and lack of sponsors. It’s awful, but it’s more the reason why you need to keep pushing. We cannot allow the bullshit to continue. We, women, need to face society, as it is and defeat our adversities. Even if are not invited to the table, we must bring a chair and sit at the table. We belong at the table. Help yourself to a spot and save one for your fellow woman peer.

About Author: Lolita Taub is a TEDx speaker and keynote, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, an artificial intelligence enthusiast, and an enterprise tech professional and investor at Portfolia. She holds 9 years of enterprise B2B software-hardware-and-services sales experience at IBM, Cisco Systems, and in Silicon Valley. Lolita has been recognized for her work on Forbes, Inc.com, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and Los Angeles Times, among other publications.

Follow Lolita on Twitter @lolitataub, visit her here, and connect with her on LinkedIn here.