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March 19, 2024

Will gen AI help or hinder women in the workplace?

Our recent survey shows women are more wary than men when it comes to gen AI and jobs. A closer look reveals the data behind the heightened concern—and ways to safeguard women from the negative impacts of gen AI.

Many people in the workforce are wary of the effect generative AI will have on their jobs. And little wonder. According to our economic model developed in partnership with Oxford Economics, 90% of all jobs could be impacted by the technology over the next decade, with half being significantly affected.

But our data also shows that one segment of the workforce could be particularly affected: women. And they seem to know it. In our recent pulse survey of 1,000 US consumers, more women than men believe generative AI will negatively impact their work in a variety of ways (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Source: Cognizant

Our New work, new world study further shows how female workers could see an unbalanced share of the risk from generative AI. The occupations in which women tend to predominate will, in fact, be more greatly disrupted by generative AI, if not eliminated altogether.

Gen AI impact on women in the workplace

To understand this phenomenon, it’s vital to consider that historically, technology-driven revolutions tended to displace employees in jobs traditionally categorized as blue-collar. Think of assembly-line workers replaced by robots. With generative AI, however, those at highest risk of disruption or displacement perform knowledge work, also known as white-collar jobs.

Ironically, women’s enormous gains in white-collar work may now make them more exposed to disruption. According to research published by Goldman Sachs, 79% of working women—compared with 58% of working men—are employed in occupations susceptible to generative AI disruption and automation. This is because a higher percentage of working women are employed in white-collar jobs than men.

A closer look deepens the picture. Our research identified occupation groups most at risk from generative AI by assigning exposure scores for 1,000 jobs currently being done by the US workforce. This score doesn’t reflect the percent of workers who will be out of a job or their chance of losing a job. Rather, it’s the percent of job tasks that will be automated or assisted by generative AI, weighted by the relative importance of those tasks. (While our research analyzed the US workforce, we believe the results can be confidently extrapolated worldwide.)

Our analysis confirms that jobs historically performed by women are at high risk of displacement. For instance:

  • One of the largest categories facing disruption by generative AI is office and administrative support. According to the US Department of Labor, 87% of administrative assistants and 68% of administrative managers are women. Crucially, both roles will see high exposure scores by 2032. Secretaries and administrative assistants have exposure scores that will exceed 50% in 10 years’ time, while office and administrative support workers will see an exposure score of 85% in that timeframe.

  • Other jobs that are both dominated by women workers and will have high exposure scores in 10 years’ time include customer service reps (63% exposure score), marketing managers (58.5%), HR specialists and assistants (55%), PR managers (53.8%) and insurance underwriters (48.3%).

  • Healthcare is another area where women tend to predominate in certain roles, including nursing, medical records, and medical and health services management. These roles have somewhat elevated exposure scores of 27%. The tasks that will be automated in this case will generally be administrative; the real value that nurses provide in clinical duties cannot, in actuality, be automated. At the same time, our research does indicate there’s a significant level of disruption ahead.

Minimizing gen AI risk to female workers

With these numbers pointing to a disproportionate disadvantage for a substantial segment of the workforce, businesses need to take action to right the balance. It will be essential to safeguard women from bearing an unfair share of the disruptive impacts of generative AI.

In our New work, new world report, we discuss the urgent need for a new trust compact that balances the negative impacts of generative AI on individuals and society with its considerable benefits. Clearly, this trust compact is particularly vital for women. Here are some key ways businesses can provide women with equitable access to opportunity and economic mobility in the generative AI era.

  • Use reskilling to help women better understand the capabilities of generative AI. Our consumer survey shows a correlation between familiarity with generative AI and trust in the technology. The more women understand how they can use generative AI to improve their own job performance or to move into a new type of occupation, the more they will embrace the new world of work ushered in by generative AI.

    Our trust compact calls for reskilling programs to be rolled out at a scale never seen before. At Cognizant, we’ve instituted a Gen AI Skills for Women program in line with our Synapse global skilling commitment. Program objectives include upskilling 500 women across Asia-Pacific and Japan with generative AI fundamentals and skills; creating a community in which to safely practice skills and wield AI with purpose; and improving access to senior women leaders in the industry.

  • Build in workplace supports that are particularly relevant to women. Something generative AI will likely not change is the fact that women are often the primary caregivers to family members. The workplace needs to recognize and support the job flexibility this requires. Doing so will help women better establish a career trajectory into roles that enable them to work alongside generative AI. Cognizant offers a “returnship” program—a three-month paid program focused on upskilling after a career break—and Be Gritty, which trains new hires to develop a growth mindset.

  • Put generative AI gains to good use. In the same way today’s net zero programs redistribute profits to take care of the planet, tomorrow’s generative AI gains might be shared with employees and society. For instance, investments could be made in educational programs to further support reskilling, particularly for highly exposed jobs.

    Businesses that think progressively about generative AI reinvestment will need to clearly communicate their intent with the workforce and the world. In our consumer survey, most consumers believe corporations will reap most of the benefits of generative AI while employees will benefit the least.

Safeguarding women from generative AI job loss

As generative AI moves into the mainstream, this powerful technology could distribute productivity gains across social sectors and act as a balance wheel for society. Businesses have an opportunity to help fulfill that promise.

By preparing now, businesses can ensure women—and other underrepresented workers with diverse backgrounds—have a seat at the table when generative AI is implemented. For if gen AI is to achieve its lofty goals, no one can be knowingly left behind by this world-changing technology.

To learn more, visit the Generative AI section of our website.

Jane Livesey

Head of Cognizant Asia Pacific and Japan

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Jane Livesey is the Head of Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ), representing Cognizant’s commercial and delivery interests in Australia, New Zealand, ASEAN, Greater China, India and Japan. In this role, Jane is focused on providing enterprises and governments across the region with high-quality, market-leading digital transformation capabilities.

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