From a business perspective, automation and artificial intelligence are fantastic. They standardize repetitive tasks and lower labor costs. But, as an employee, it can be terrifying. Loyal employees find themselves out of work because of automation.

Further, new research found automation and AI contribute to gender inequality in the workplace.

A December survey from the recruiting platform ZipRecruiter found that men are more likely to know which jobs technology will replace. This gives them a head start in retraining for new emerging jobs.

The situation is even worse when you consider a 2016 survey from the World Economic Forum, an organization that focuses on improving the relationships between business, society, and politics. It found that although women are not more likely to lose their job to technology, they are less likely to work in an industry where their careers benefit from advancements. 

Both of these factors can lead to gender inequality. As a business leader, you need to take steps to continue moving forward, not backward. Here are four ways to do that:

1. Be proactive about hiring.

There are certain positions that men are less likely to hold. Women are more likely to be cashiers, customer service representatives, and receptionists. Unfortunately, many responsibilities of these roles are also more likely to be automated. 

To promote equality, fill traditionally male-dominated jobs with female candidates. For instance, Skymind is an enterprise deep-learning provider that mostly hires software engineers. Often, when they have an open position, they receive only male applicants.

"We are proactively reaching out to groups of female software engineers in university computer science programs," said Skymind CEO Chris Nicholson. "We're moving upstream to raise our visibility and recruit females early in their careers, before many of them change course."

Since automation is less likely to take over these positions, Nicholson says, Skymind maintains its gender diversity. Before you think of automating roles, make sure that you have women represented at all levels. This way, when changes occur, a disproportionate number of women won't be let go.

2. Research algorithms. 

Algorithms should be unbiased. Yet they inherently take on the prejudices of their designers. Take applicant tracking systems, for example. If a man develops the algorithms, the end product will look for masculine words in resumes. Women describe their skills differently, so their applications would be less successful.

"We vastly undervalue the role of ethics and empathy in the creation of new technologies," Gareth Price, technical director of multi-channel branding company Ready Set Rocket, said. "You will notice that there are very few women taking the 'algorithms are neutral and unbiased' argument that many male engineers like to hide behind to avoid the tricky moral questions."

Do your research. Before buying into a new technology, find out who developed it. See if both male and female engineers were involved. Also, during a demo period, question the result you get. Ask yourself if it's possible that the software is biased against women.

3. Tap into female creativity.

The jobs that are becoming automated tend to be procedural or information-based. Twenty years ago, you needed to ask your assistant about your meeting schedule. Now you can ask Siri.

Instead of just eliminating these historically-female jobs, give women room to imagine. For example, at the data-based customer messaging platform SPLICE, they focus on bringing out women's creative and intuitive sides.

"Support people when they make gut decisions," said president and CEO Tara Kelly. "Instinct has proven invaluable to every species."

This helps women move into roles where they can build up their experience level instead of company-specific knowledge. 

4. Focus on higher responsibilities, not new ones.

Often, when a woman loses her job to automation, she thinks she needs to develop a completely new set of skills. She goes back to school or starts at the bottom rung of a different corporate ladder. This doesn't have to be the case.

Linda Crawford, CEO of the bot-powered customer service platform Helpshift, pointed out that leaders should focus on leveraging the best human talent. 

"If a company implements a new AI tool to handle analytics instead of human supervisors, those supervisors shouldn't necessarily be sent off to a different department," she said. "They can add massive value with their extra time by now focusing on successful team management and onboarding."

Instead of dismissing women whose jobs are obsolete, see what new challenge they can take on. Even an entry-level employee will learn skills outside of their role while on the job. Give them a chance to step up -- rather than down -- in their career.

Published on: Dec 27, 2017