Skillsoft Blog

Women and the AI Revolution

Women and the AI Revolution

We’ve all heard the shocking statistics – one Oxford report suggested that 47% of jobs in the U.S. are under threat of automation in the next two decades. A 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that automation and other technology could result in between 400 and 800 million people losing their jobs to machines and that globally, up to 375 million workers may need to switch job titles.

Let’s assume, for this blog post, that we all agree that a large proportion of roles will be wiped out by AI and other roles will become required because of AI.

What I want to look at is how women will fare in this new AI world.

First, let’s look at the major roles which are being predicted to be wiped out by AI, according to Hubspot:

  1. Telemarketers
  2. Bookkeeping clerks
  3. Compensation and benefits managers
  4. Receptionists
  5. Couriers
  6. Proofreaders
  7. Computer Support Specialists
  8. Market Research Analysts
  9. Advertising Salespeople
  10. Retail Salespeople

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? The majority of the people who do these jobs are women.

In 2016, Forrester reported that AI would replace 7% of U.S. jobs by 2025 – with office and administration staff being the most rapidly disrupted.

My issue is not that we will lose jobs to AI (I know we will) and we will have to spend time and money reskilling and upskilling our people (I wholeheartedly agree with this). It is that these losses will be felt most heavily and harshly by women, as they usually hold the types of lower-skilled positions that are more easily replaced by automation.

According to estimates by the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis (ISEA) twice as many women as men will lose their jobs because again women are typically working in areas that are most likely to be automated.  We’re talking jobs like cashiers, office and administrative roles.

The World Economic Forum also identified that women would be more affected by the coming changes than men:

“In absolute terms, men will face nearly 4 million job losses and 1.4 million gains, approximately one job gained for every three jobs lost, whereas women will face 3 million job losses and only 0.55 million gains, more than five jobs lost for every job gained.”

Why is this?

Because women do more of the jobs that face the highest automation risks.

I believe the future for educated women is positive. As gender bias becomes more and more unacceptable; the pay gap will close and it will become commercial suicide not to have a diverse board. Educated women will do well.

The World Economic Forum predicts that those women already in disadvantaged groups – older women, women lacking education or formal qualifications, rural women and immigrant women – could have a very different experience. Their disadvantages are further compounded by diminishing opportunities for unskilled work and higher barriers to upskilling.

In 2016, US Department of Labor reported on the gender profiles of all professions – many of which are ripe for disruption from AI. Women make up


  • 94% of secretaries and administrative assistants
  • 94% of nurse practitioners
  • 90% of payroll and timekeeping clerks
  • 90% of receptionists
  • 89% of cleaners
  • 88% of word processors and typists
  • 88% of bookkeeping, account and auditing clerks
  • 86% of paralegals and legal assistants
  • 84% of travel agents
  • 77% of data entry keyers
  • 75% of flight attendants
  • 73% of cashiers
  • 72% of office and administration workers
  • 70% of waitresses and waiters
  • 69% of opticians
  • 66% of desk clerks
  • 64% of telemarketers


How do we start to fight back?

Education, education, education.

People without a high school degree face an almost six times higher risk than those with a doctorate of losing their livelihoods, as they are more likely to be working jobs that are less complex and easier to automate.

I believe it is the employer’s responsibility to reskill and upskill their employees. We cannot allow millions of women to be laid off without offering an alternate career.

At our recent Perspectives conference, Josh Bersin talked about the requirements for L&D professionals. Deloitte research tells us that 45% of North American respondents think that their current skills will be inadequate in three years, while 59% of global survey respondents think their companies are not giving them opportunities to develop.

We need to provide employees with access to learning which they take can take at their own pace, where and when it suits them, and offer them various options of how to learn – including videos, ebooks and audiobooks. I believe in the future the most successful employers will have the best learning solution as part of their offering. Just like companies talk about their 401K, health insurance or vacation policy to attract the right talent, it will become necessary for companies to demonstrate how to grow your skills.


Tara O’Sullivan is the Chief  Marketing Officer and Executive sponsor of the Women in Action Programme at Skillsoft.

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