GINA NEFF, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW & ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, OXFORD INTERNET INSTITUTE & THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
Professor Gina Neff is a Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the Oxford Internet Institute and the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford. She studies the future of work in data-rich environments. Professor Neff leads a new multinational comparative research project on the effects of the adoption of AI across multiple industries.
What is the challenge you/your organisation is working on?
I study the impact AI will have on women’s authority and on the balance of power in workplaces like hospitals and how collaboration will change in AI-enabled teams.
How does AI affect women?
The emotional intelligence of some women is a skillset that can’t be automated, yet. That’s the good news. But it’s also true that in many advanced economies, women hold the majority of jobs that face the threat of automation. So there’s a gendered aspect to the debate about the consequences of AI on employment that has gone unrecognised.
Why is women’s leadership important on AI?
Beyond the effects I already mentioned, there’s the key issue of the quality of the data that AI use to understand the world and make decisions about it. Ultimately, artificial intelligence will make decisions which affect many areas of our lives, and those decisions will only be as good as the data they’re based on.
At the moment, very few people are asking what needs to be put in place to build, govern, and manage artificial intelligence in a way that supports women. It’s essential that those questions are asked and answered by women, in a way that takes account of the experience of women around the world.
How can women amplify their impact on this issue, and what’s necessary to help them combine their efforts?
Women are leading on the research into the effects of AI, the impact of AI, and founding and leading many of the companies which enable AI to interact more smoothly with human workers.
There’s still a long way to go, though. Worldwide, women still only make up 22% of AI professionals, according to one recent survey by LinkedIn and the World Economic Forum.
It’s great to see the Women’s Forum doing such great work on women and AI through the Daring Circles. It’s through interventions like this that we’ll be able to begin to change the conversation.
But I think one of the most underrated aspects that would help women lead in this space is role models. A group of economists recently published a great paper quantifying this with economics students: they tested how much women’s enrolment in economics courses grew once a group were exposed to charismatic role models from the same university compared to a control group. They found it increased their likelihood to major in economics by 8%. So if you’re a woman in AI, the best thing you can do is get out there and talk to other women about it!
How important is collaboration to having an impact on this issue, and what role does the Daring Circle play in that shared work?
For the most pressing issues on women and AI, the solutions require organisations to collaborate.
Take the issue of gendered data. I would love to be able to tell you that companies which use gendered data to build their systems will be punished by consumers, or in terms of reputation. But in practice, the environments where AI is developed are normally too opaque for consumers, or they are developed in markets which are too concentrated for consumers to be able to exert much power.
So the most effective way to ensure that AI doesn’t replicate gender biases is to make sure business decisionmakers understand the risks, work together to set and maintain minimum standards, and keep to them over time.
It’s great to see the Daring Circles thinking about this and enabling that kind of collaboration on issues such as women and AI, women and STEM skills, and women as role models for leadership and change more generally.
Women leading together: This series of stories highlights women leaders and entrepreneurs who are driving positive impact on our most pressing global issues and demonstrating women’s unique contribution to inclusive solutions. It draws on the community of the Daring Circles – workgroups committed to positive impact in areas where women are most affected and where women are demonstrating outsize leadership. Share your stories with the hashtag Women4AI, and submit your own stories to the Women’s Forum editorial team by emailing Sophie Lambin (firstname.lastname@example.org).