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The Future of Work Is Female

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Agnieszka Walorska, founder at Creative Construction, spoke about how women may take over the world when men automate themselves away at Codemotion Berlin 2018. Jobs currently performed by the majority of women, where it’s more about adaptability, improvisation, emotional intelligence, and implicit knowledge, will predominate in the future, according to Agnieszka Walorska. Artificial intelligence and robotics will automate highly specialized jobs mostly performed by men.

Unlike the industrial revolution of the 19th century, the technological unemployment of the 21st century will not only affect low-skilled workers - but the highly-skilled white-collar jobs as well, argued Walorska. Men will lose their power thanks to the field that is currently so dominated by men: artificial intelligence, said Walorska.

Men have been trained and rewarded over generations for performing jobs that are predictable, repetitive, emotionless or require physical strength, but robots and algorithms are much better at being predictable, repetitive, emotionless and strong than humans are, argued Walorska. Typical female jobs are the opposite of it, she said, they work in unpredictable environments (think of nurses or pre-school teachers) where it’s more about adaptability, improvisation, emotional intelligence, and implicit knowledge; features machines are still really bad at.

She stated that many of the jobs existing today will still exist in the future - but their profile will change. She mentioned doctors as an example; they will need totally different skills and require different training. A doctor will not need to make a diagnosis or prescribe medication, but rather focus on comforting, explaining and guiding the patient through the process, she argued.

InfoQ spoke with Walorska after her talk.

InfoQ: Why do virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri mostly have a female name and voice?

Agnieszka Walorska: They should fulfill a role of an assistant. And most people when thinking of an assistant think of a women, so we’re reproducing the stereotypes into technology

InfoQ: You mentioned that the work on artificial intelligence is dominated by men. What causes this?

Walorska: There are generally fewer women in tech, not only in AI. First reason is, that generally fewer women decide to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. Why? There is actually quite a strong correlation between gender equality and the gender gap in maths performance in schools. In countries with bad standards of gender equality, boys outperform girls. In countries with a high level of gender equality there is either no difference in maths performance or girls tend to outperform boys. But even in these gender-neutral countries girls/young women are still less attracted to STEM (even if they perform well), than boys/young men.

There still are gender stereotypes resulting in girls having the impression of "not belonging" there, also because there are still few role models. This lacking of role models at universities and in companies is also the reason for the fact, that of men with STEM degree 40 percent work in tech careers while the same is true only for 26 percent of women, which opens the gender gap even wider.

People just simply prefer employing people who are similar to them, and in most companies men are responsible for hiring engineers. Not to forget the hostile environment with sexist jokes that sometimes makes women who get through the recruitment process quit.

InfoQ: How do you expect that robotics and artificial intelligence will impact work and jobs?

Walorska: Estimates of the degree of automation range from about 30 percent to almost 50 percent within the next 20 years. There already is a program generating automated sports reporting in a compelling narrative indistinguishable from human writing, IBM Watson and Google Brain are making diagnoses with an accuracy similar to or better than human, "the robot lawyer" DoNotPay successfully contests 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York, and software learns how to programme itself.

On the other hand, according to a Gallup study from 2017, only 15 percent of employees across 155 countries are "engaged" in their jobs (highly involved and enthusiastic about what they do). So wouldn’t it actually be great if robots and algorithms carried out boring, strenuous, repetitive or dangerous jobs? Of course, even if most people don’t like their jobs - they still depend on them. So we will probably need a quite radical change in our social systems.

InfoQ: What will be the consequences if today’s typical women’s work predominates in the future?

Walorska: The transition phase will definitely be difficult and will surely take a while. It’s rather unrealistic to expect that all the unemployed drivers and construction workers (jobs with a very high probability of automatization) will become nurses and pre-school teachers (jobs with very low probability of automatization). But I see the long-term consequences optimistically: more esteem and better wages for "pink-collar" work, more respect and fair division of unpaid labour (like caregiving to family members), decrease in domestic abuse (men losing jobs and depending on their partner tend to restrain from violent behavior).

InfoQ: What role can unconditional basic income play when it comes to jobs and the labor market?

Walorska: I believe that the future of our society will depend on which opportunities we provide to those who lose their jobs. I believe that we’ll need an unconditional basic income so they can keep a decent life standard, while focusing on education, charity work or other kinds of unpaid work. Also the reduction of working hours for the same salary might be a natural way of dealing with task automation. At the end of the 19th century the average American man used to work 62 hours per week; since the 1960s, this number is down to about 40 hours. I don’t think it’s impossible to get to 20-25 hours by 2050-2060.

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