Alumni Women’s Lunch 2021: The impact of AI on women

The Business and Economics Alumni Women’s Lunch for 2021 explored the opportunities Artificial Intelligence will bring to women in the workplace and the skills and knowledge that will be needed to thrive in the age of automation.

Industry 4.0 is upon us, powered by the Internet of Things – smart, autonomous systems will use algorithms to control machinery, robots and vehicles as well as systems, triggering a digital transformation.

Due to a last-minute COVID-lockdown in Victoria, this year’s lunch was held via Zoom, on the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on women - both personal and professional.

The message from the speakers was clear: The workplace is changing and will continue to change.

Caron Beaton-Wells, Deputy Dean at the Melbourne Business School and a Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Law School opened the event by paying her respects to the traditional owners of the country and welcoming the panellists.

Kate Stewart from the FBE Alumni Council, and Founder and Consultant ebc Advisory, moderated the hour-long session.

Some key insights included the underrepresentation of women in the AI industry. Dr Niharika Garud, Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Management at the Faculty of Business and Economics, pointed out that less than 26 per cent of the global workforce in AI are women.

Women have less access to tech positions and there is a big glass ceiling. We need to look at how to bring women into the industry.”

The discussion also ventured into how AI might be growing, but will never be as strong in jobs with truly human nature. Tristonne Forbes (BCom 1993), founder and CEO of Pathwize, a strategy consultancy specialising in entrepreneurship, innovation and digital transformation gave a striking example of this.

“AI can help you write captions for social media, but it still has to be human to choose which one will be published.”

Dr Garud explained the inherent biases that exist in the algorithms used in the AI industry, resulting in products that are also biased. This means that, for example, women or people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities often encounter racial and gender-based discrimination when coming into contact with AI.

She said, “This idea that men are assertive, and women are soft is gender bias. If you feed this kind of textual data, the result is also going to be biased.”

So, how do we work towards bringing more diversity into the AI industry?

Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, Leah Ruppanner responded to this.

“This is a race against machines, but we have to see that this will be a race with machines too,” she said.

“For women in the workforce, the idea is not necessarily to become technical coders, but to have a breadth of skills.”

The Faculty of Business and Economics extends its thanks to the three panellists and all the panellists for joining us, albeit online, and being a part of the Alumni Women's Lunch 2021.