When the first automated cash registers were installed at Macy's, I was part of a college-age "flyer" team who learned the technology and stood in for full-time employees (mostly women) when they went to training. One career saleswoman was completely freaked out by the new machines. I wonder whether her career survived. 

Fast forward to the present. I was recently explaining Natural Language Generation (NLG) to a woman writer. "I hope that doesn't happen," she exclaimed. She was unaware that editorial content at major publications is now machine-generated. NLG is also being used in  marketing to send targeted sales pitches to prospects. 

Developing the skills and knowledge to remain relevant is more important now than ever before. I believe that women will play three roles in the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

  1. The Leaders: These are the women who worked their way up the engineering ladder and possess both the business skills and technical prowess to be respected by their peers.
  2. The Strategists: They include strategic branding experts, high-level communicators, and talent acquisition specialists. Still in the C-suites, they will help companies achieve financial success. 
  3. The Professional Educators and Caretakers: Many women are not wired for technology-based careers, but they still will need to learn how to use some level of AI, machine learning, and robotic support to do their jobs.

And then we have Group 4: The Ostriches. These women refuse (out of fear of or discomfort with  technology or change) to accept that the AI evolution is occurring. Finding work will become increasingly difficult -- if not impossible -- for these people.

The 6.7 percent issue

Denial of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is certainly not limited to females, but if only 6.7 percent of women are pursuing STEM careers and only 25 percent hold STEM jobs, what does that mean for women as AI leaders (Group 1)? 

Women like Ginni Rometty of IBM are rare. Fei-Fei Lei of Google Cloud recently sat with Melinda Gates to discuss the lack of women in AI leadership roles and how to "liberate AI from 'guys with hoodies.'" Organizations like Women in Machine Learning (which publishes a list of qualified women in the field) and Women in AI have formed to help tackle the issues and inspire young women to pursue leadership positions.

Companies are investing $650 million in AI jobs, filling 10,000 positions, according to salary analyst Paysa. The lack of women in management as the AI industry grows will simply widen an already alarming pay gap between men and women.

Adelyn Zhou, CMO of TopBots, an AI strategy and execution advisory company,  believes that the dearth of women in technology will mean that women will not directly shape AI initiatives. She points out that, "AI is not driven solely by engineers. and female leaders in marketing, operations and other executive offices can play a vital role in enabling AI initiatives in a company...They can help create the AI strategy and apply it to various parts of the business organization."

Amy Inlow has spent most of her career in technology marketing. Now the CMO of Albert, an AI marketing platform for enterprises, she believes that "more women need encouragement and awareness at a young age to even know that pursuing a "Group 1' career will make them part of -- if not creators of -- the future. I also think it's absolutely possible for members of other groups (e.g., a Group 2 like me) to step into a Group 1 role. Sometimes it's as simple as having the confidence to do so, even if it takes 20+ years to get there."

Although these "strategic enablement" roles are critical, they may not be as lucrative as senior engineering or management positions. As with all careers, women need to choose between their bank accounts and their true passions and capabilities. 

A woman's job is...

According to Zhou, "'men's jobs' are more likely to be automated sooner than those jobs held by women. Women are often child care providers, nurses, and secretaries, roles that involve higher degrees of social empathy, interpersonal skills and creativity. These skills are harder to automate with the current technology. As automation takes on the more rote and mundane parts of jobs, the 'human factor' of creativity and EQ plays a greater importance, areas that women tend to excel at."

This perspective seems like a throwback to an earlier era -- when women were responsible for care-taking and men held key decision-making positions. However, those women who opt not to pursue a purely technical path may find lucrative employment in the "helping" world -- provided they acknowledge that technology will be part of virtually every job in the future. 

Educators at all levels need to learn about the implications of AI so they can begin to teach and inspire the next generation of professional women, encouraging those who are qualified to pursue STEM careers and expose them to the wide range of career options.

Some women lack the education or desire to pursue caring professions. Basic food industry jobs and sales clerk positions have already been affected by the move to automation, and this trend will continue. Even the barista is at risk. 

The losers will be the ostriches

Those people (women and men) who don't see the change coming and start to prepare for it now may discover that finding work becomes increasingly difficult. "Pushing away the robots" may ultimately lead to being replaced by them. Employers will seek talent (women and men) who are comfortable co-botting (working side-by-side with robots) and learning new skills as their industries evolve. 

Why should AI be gender-balanced?

As we develop technologies to replace human actions, the people making decisions should represent our population. Robots are already learning bias from the human views and data they process.

Women who want to be nurses and teachers and social workers can happily pursue those careers. But if the rest of us don't want to wind up like the Macy's saleswoman or be shut out of boardrooms by more qualified men (and robots), we need to up our AI insights and embrace the machine.