British Women and AI: Not Yet

Only about a third of women are using AI at work or at home, less than men. Can leaders reduce an important tech gap?

Among countries, the UK is banking on becoming the world leader in the AI revolution. According to a new survey, it’s turning out to be a heavily male movement so far.

According to a survey by FlexJobs of 5,600 working professionals in the UK, only 35% of women are embracing AI tools at work or home. That compares to 54% of men. Experts say the disappointing numbers threaten the country’s success in developing the technology. “It’s a long-standing challenge,” says Donna Herdsman, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and head of diversity, equity, and inclusion for EMEA. “Over the years, there have been many campaigns to get more women involved.”

To be sure, part of the problem is obvious: There are significantly more men (17.2 million) in the UK workforce than women (15.6 million). That’s partly because women, of course, tend to take on more of the burden of child-rearing. “We’re not going to unpack biology and unwind the priorities women have,” says Tanya Viscovich, Korn Ferry’s senior client partner for marquee accounts in the UK.

Still, experts say the tech industry in particular is not making enough effort to hire women, with about three in four British-based IT project/program managers and support technicians being male, according to data from UK-based HR-knowledge broker Working Futures 2022. The figures for IT business analysts, architects, and systems designers are even more male dominated. “Most tech organizations seem to favor men over women,” Herdsman says.

Interestingly, women may be avoiding AI because they tend to be more risk averse than men, according to recent research from the UK-based University of Bath. “Women are less willing to take risks than men because they are more sensitive to the pain of any losses they might incur than they are any gains they might make,” the report says. That also fits in with a trust gap. Only 40% of women trust AI, versus 60% of men, according to recent research. As a result, fewer women than men use AI. “There is a risk-aversion issue when you are turning all the work over to a machine,” says Camelia Ram, Korn Ferry’s senior principal for organizational strategy in the UK. And she adds that there is a sense that using AI is tantamount to cheating. 

The solutions are not easy, but experts say savvy leaders can create better work environments where women are willing to experiment. Ram says skilled executives should clearly communicate a shared sense of what the company’s direction is and what is acceptable. That includes ensuring that the workplace is psychologically safe and that the rules are the same for everyone. “If the rules aren’t enforced uniformly, then there will be no trust,” she says.

Experts also say that as leaders press for more AI applications, they need to be certain women are given the necessary training. “It’s the leaders’ responsibility to make sure everyone knows how to use AI,” says Viscovich. 


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