As the relentless advance of A.I. continues to gain momentum, so too does the growing chorus of alarmist voices predicting its destruction of countless jobs. Undeniably, companies’ recent moves to streamline their operations through artificial intelligence paint a stark picture for the labor market. Big Tech layoffs claimed more than 150,000 jobs throughout 2022 alone, with Goldman Sachs predicting that 300 million jobs will ultimately be lost or degraded by artificial intelligence. Yet whilst the perils of A.I.’s devaluation of professional skills have been charted in lurid detail, little attention has been paid to the equally significant professional opportunities that this upheaval will generate.
Analysis of international workforce data indicates that the jobs that require abstract thinking and interpersonal skills are the least likely to be threatened by the introduction of A.I. For firms to remain competitive as A.I. undercuts their existing offerings, innovative employees will become crucial to developing new products, services, and income streams. Equally important will be empathetic leaders who are capable of cultivating a workplace culture that empowers these innovators to excel.
Strikingly, these soft skills entail attributes that have traditionally been characterized as “feminine.” Beyond clumsy stereotyping, this association of women with specific professional traits is well documented in both labor market statistics and academic research. In fact, from a young age, girls have been found to demonstrate a greater preference for jobs with higher brain and people content than boys. This trend continues into the workplace, as employment data from across the U.S. and U.K. reveals that women are 31% and 57% more likely to choose jobs that are people-oriented than their male counterparts.
The advantage that A.I. will afford these jobs therefore promises to shake up the labor market in more ways than one. Not only will the workforce look dramatically different in terms of the types and number of jobs available, but we should also see an increased representation of women in senior leadership positions as a result. With skills traditionally associated with women becoming increasingly important to ensure success alongside A.I., this sea change provides a compelling incentive for firms to commit to driving mutually beneficial advances in gender representation in the workplace.
As with the introduction of any disruptive technology, the A.I. revolution will usher in a highly competitive, winner-takes-all economy that heavily rewards “superstar” players. To secure a slice of this success, firms must develop a culture in which diverse employees are empowered to challenge one another and thus drive innovation. Previously, companies such as Amazon have interpreted this dynamic as one that is highly individualistic and combative. However, any success achieved through such a toxic strategy has come at a cost: a monocultural workforce, limited innovation, and eyewatering turnover rates. In 2020, Amazon’s senior leadership team had just three women compared to 19 men, and last year it was revealed that Amazon has an annual employee turnover rate of 150%. Before you even calculate the cost of missed opportunities to disrupt markets through fresh perspectives, this staggering churn alone was costing shareholders $8 billion annually.
To achieve more sustainable growth, innovation must be built on a collaborative vision of success rather than cutthroat competition or tribalism. This inclusive dynamic must be driven by empathetic leaders who encourage open dialogue between diverse–and potentially dissenting–voices within the organization, actively combat confirmation bias, and promote more agile decision-making. As disruptive technology demands an equally radical attitude from businesses, the temptation to justify clinging to the status quo by seeking biased evidence can be fatal.
The case for championing an innovative and supportive culture is more compelling than ever. This inclusive innovation model stands to benefit women, who are typically penalized for exhibiting the same assertiveness that is praised as evidence of “grit” and “innovation” in male leaders. As firms reward and incentivize empathetic leaders with increased salaries and promotions, women will at last be rewarded for the traits that were traditionally perceived as a weakness–and thus a barrier to progression–in professional environments.
The new, automated workplace will be one that empowers and rewards women’s talents as an increasingly urgent business performance strategy. Already in 2019, analysis by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. As A.I. transforms how businesses operate, this disparity will only become more glaring.
Rather than apocalyptic visions of mass redundancy, A.I.’s restructuring of the labor market must be reimagined as an opportunity to finally deliver on corporate diversity pledges that in turn benefit the bottom line. Now more than ever, for successful businesses, the future really is feminist.
Grace Lordan, P.h.D., is an associate professor of behavioral science and the founding director of The Inclusion Initiative at the London School of Economics.
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