How Does Gender Inequality and AI Technology Intersect?

This article is written by our CTO, Robert Elliott Smith. He introduces himself and dives into why gender equality is not just for the benefit of women, but for the workplace and the wider economy.

Those of you who follow my posts or have read my book know how passionate I am about the power of diversity, and, therefore, the essential need to overcome societal biases, prejudices, and inequalities. And there is no greater inequality than the limits placed on half the human population — that is, the women of the world. That’s why I’m thrilled to announce my new position as CTO of , a company whose mission is to use technology to help close the gender pay gap.

Gender inequality is not only the greatest bias in human history; it is also the costliest in terms of human productivity. As I see it, there are only two ways to create new value in the world: find and exploit new material resources (for instance, new deposits of oil), or make use of people’s boundless creativity to invent and create new things. Seen this way, the one genuinely sustainable resource for growth in the world is human potential. Thus, the most valuable, untapped resource we have is the repressed potential of the female half of the human population.

As Dr Amanda Foreman points out in her excellent BBC2 documentary series , the prejudices that hold women back haven’t always existed, but they do stem back to the foundations of modern “civilization.” The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (circa 1754 BC) was the first to treat women as a kind of property. Greek philosopher Aristotle introduced the idea of the “separate spheres” model, which described men as intrinsically suited to polis (public life), while women were relegated to oikos (home life). In my book, Rage Inside the Machine , in a chapter entitled ‘Women’s Work’, I explore how deeply-rooted and persistent this damaging pseudoscientific frame has been throughout history and how it was endorsed and strengthened further during the Industrial Revolution by scientific heavyweights such as Darwin, despite having no foundations in real science.

Despite its pseudoscientific basis, and vast bodies of evidence to the contrary, the idea that there is some sort of biological ‘natural order’ of things, whereby men and women are best suited to different roles, persists. Just last week, with the controversial appointment of former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a UK trade advisor , there was an outcry from equality campaigners because sexist statements from Abbott (which were documented in a speech by another former Australian PM, Julia Gillard , that quickly went viral) included:

“What if men are, by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”

Not only is it unacceptable that such views should be tolerated at the highest levels of society, but it is beyond ironic that the idea persists, given the impressive leadership demonstrated by female Heads of State in Germany, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland and Taiwan during the Covid-19 crisis. A fact supported by analysis from the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, which concludes women leaders acted “more quickly and decisively” to save lives resulting in “systemically and significantly better” outcomes for their citizens.

It is both wrong and harmful that women have been held back by outdated, pseudoscientific ideas about the roles to which they are suited. But those of you who have read my book will know that I believe diversity is not just about promoting those previously held back. Diversity (of people, opinions, perspectives, etc.), and consequent mixing, is the vital fuel for effective innovation in the face of a complex and radically uncertain world. This is why I’m glad to be working with the diverse, growing team at Mirza, including our CEO, Siran Cao, and COO Mel Faxon. Combining our perspectives is already leading to innovations.

As is so wisely observed in The Reality Bubble, by Ziya Tong , we often can’t correct problems because we can’t see them. They exist in blind spots, some induced by existing societal norms. I believe strongly that techniques like “AI” and machine learning should be used not as a substitute for human thinking, but to make the complex world more “human-readable.” That’s precisely what we will be doing at Mirza.

We’re creating a life choice planning tool that will reveal the personal economic impacts of choices employees make when starting a family. And we’re developing a dashboard for employers that will help them understand how their structures and policies affect those life decisions for their employees. Latest research shows that these decisions are directly related to the gender pay gap and that the real costs for both employer and employee aren’t well understood, which may lead to bad decisions for both parties.

We’re going to help see through those blind spots. For employers, we’re clarifying the real (and very significant) costs of the gender pay gap, and its consequent effects on workplace diversity and productivity. For employees, we’re enabling gender-pay-gap informed decisions about major life choices, from when to go back to work after having a child, to what career to pursue in light of broader life goals.

Originally published at on September 16, 2020.

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