Championing Female Leadership in the Age of AI

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Ana Paula Assis, Chair and General Manager IBM EMEA, introduces a new IBM study on female leadership in the age of AI.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is shifting the status quo, changing the way we work, live, and interact. Businesses are already using AI to transform the future workforces and economies, as the technology itself continues to develop at an unprecedented rate.

Given the scale of the AI revolution, the people leading this transformation must be representative of society at large. One key part of this is ensuring that women are active leaders in this technological revolution. To understand the benefits and challenges of increasing female leadership in the sector, IBM has produced a new report: Female Leadership in the Age of AI.

The report, based on responses from over 4,000 business decision makers across EMEA, explores what impact increased female leadership will have on AI, how male and female leaders are preparing for deployment, and what practical steps they should take to ensure that AI is built and used in ways that are grounded in a broader range of perspectives and experiences.

The key to success 

Our research shows that increasing female leadership in AI is not a “nice to have” diversity exercise; it will have significant effects on the success and future of the technology. For example, 73% of EMEA business leaders believe that increased female leadership in the sector is important for mitigating gender bias in AI, while 74% view it as important for ensuring that the economic benefits of AI are equally felt in society.

There are also professional opportunities and individual rewards to be reaped, with 45% of leaders believing that experience with AI will increase their competitive advantage in the labor market, while career progression, job security, and salary increases were all identified as additional potential benefits.

However, our report found that only 33% of businesses in EMEA have a female leader in charge of making decisions on AI strategy, indicating that there is still progress to be made.

And while a promising 51% of businesses say that advancing more women into leadership roles is a top formal priority within their organization, this differed starkly across markets. For example, in France and the UK, only 37% said it was a formal business priority, compared to 69% in KSA.

Bridging the confidence gap

When asked whether respondents were confident in their business leadership abilities in the age of AI, 61% of male respondents strongly agreed, compared with just 46% of female respondents.

This confidence gap is one that needs to be addressed quickly, especially when it comes to preparing for AI deployment, so that male and female business leaders are on equal footing. For example, 55% of women are actively upskilling and improving their technical skills compared to 58% of men, and our data shows that women are participating in the creation of governance and regulatory frameworks, leading and preparing their teams for upcoming changes, actively educating themselves on the shifting regulatory landscape at the same rate as their male peers.

Interestingly, both male and female leaders admit they want more support in understanding and deploying AI. Half (50%) of both male and female leaders said they want more support on skills development and learning, while 49% want more opportunities to experience AI in action. 47% said they would benefit from cross-industry networking events in order to share knowledge.

Beyond the boardroom

The importance of equipping women with the necessary confidence and skills to thrive in the AI age goes beyond the boardroom. Over the next three years, 87% of business leaders expect at least a quarter of their workforce will need to reskill in response to generative AI and automation.

This transformation will not be isolated to IT departments. Finance, customer service, and product development were all identified by leaders as departments which will require a considerable proportion of their staff to reskill. Overseeing such a fundamental skills transformation will be a critical responsibility for business leaders over this period.

Seizing the opportunity

AI represents a new chapter for business, and we now have a real opportunity to lean into this period of change and ensure that female leaders have access to the right resources and support to propel their careers to the forefront of this technological revolution.

Respondents identified several solutions which they believe will help achieve this. Mentoring programs proved a popular option, with 36% believing they would be effective in supporting women the technology sector. Other popular choices included supporting more investment in female-founded AI companies (32%) and increasing representation at C-suite level (32%).

Female Leadership in the Age of AI offers further clear recommendations for businesses to follow in order to ensure that female leaders play an active role in the AI revolution and steer it towards a future that is inclusive, ethical, and empowering for all.

Download the Female Leadership in the Age of AI report findings here

Chair and General Manager, IBM EMEA

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