Global Women's Forum Dubai: artificial intelligence 'will discriminate against women'

Forum hears how women are over-represented in jobs that are at risk of being replaced by AI

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Artificial intelligence will likely contribute to discrimination against women in the workplace, a high-ranking United Nations official said on Sunday.

The UN Development Programme’s Pedro Conceicao said jobs at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence – that typically involve routine tasks – are over-represented with women.

Similarly, recruitment sites are built using algorithms designed to detect candidates who meet existing parameters – and these tend to be biased towards men.

“There is evidence that artificial intelligence is more likely to put jobs being performed by women at risk,” Mr Conceicao said on the first day of the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai.

“Women are over represented in jobs and tasks that are classified as being routine.

There is evidence that artificial intelligence is more likely to put jobs being performed by women at risk

“We also know that artificial intelligence algorithms use the information that’s given to them. Some of the recruitment algorithms do not target women for high-paying jobs because they are trained to reflect the world we live in.”

That world, he said, is one in which women earn only 75 per cent, on average, of what their male counterparts take home for performing the same tasks.

Mr Conceicao said there is a real danger that the problems women face in the workplace could be made worse, rather than solved, by advancements in technology.

The battle for gender equality was a “never-ending struggle”, he said. But businesses that focus on diversity in the workplace will reap the benefits.

“Companies that bring in policies to improve diversity actually get higher returns,” Mr Conceicao said.

Caren Grown, the World Bank Group’s senior director for gender said men needed to be allies and “champions” for equality to support changes.

“It cannot happen unless men stand up,” she said.

“Studies show that men want to see these changes but society’s structures and norms prevent them.”

She said gender discrimination was a global issue.

“We all have a long way to go when it comes to equality,” she said.

On Sunday, Hessa Buhumaid, the Minister of Community Development, told the forum of the UAE's efforts to tackle gender inequality.

“The constitution of the UAE guarantees equal rights for both men and women,” she said.

She said the formation of the Gender Balance Council was a milestone in helping to establish the importance of equality in the region.

“This council is not fighting for any rights ... we believe in the United Arab Emirates that everyone should be granted their power and not have to fight for it,” she said.

The Global Women’s Forum, held in Madinat Jumeirah until Monday, will also be attended by Ivanka Trump and former UK prime minister Theresa May.