Developments in artificial intelligence and automation have been heralded as a major leap forward in human advancement. But they could also adversely affect another important measure of societal progress: The gender pay gap.
That's according to a new report from the World Economic Forum, which indicated that the growth of jobs in emerging industries, such as IT and engineering, is set to disproportionately hurt women and, by consequence, progress made in reducing pay inequality.
The gender pay gap, the difference between average earnings for men and women, has been narrowing over recent years, yet there remains a long way to go until compensation parity is reached — 202 years to be exact. And that estimate could grow even lengthier if progress is not made in bringing more women into the workforce, the WEF found.
"We're looking at these big, structural changes, which I think are creating a drag on what was a stronger momentum before towards gender equality," Saadia Zahidi, managing director and head of social and economic agendas at the World Economic Forum said.
“我们正在关注这些重大的结构性变化，我认为这会给之前朝性别平等方向迈进的强劲势头造成拖累，” 世界经济论坛性别平等项目负责人Saadia Zahidi表示。
That's due to two major factors, Zahidi told CNBC's "Squawk Box."
Firstly, many of the roles typically filled by women, such as administrative and customer service roles, are being "automated away" by new technologies. And, secondly, the types of roles that are growing, like machine learning and big data roles in the IT sector, happen to be ones where "the talent base of women is very small as compared to men."
The shortage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions is well chronicled. But the report notes how that gender disparity — often the result of historic gender biases — has visibly impacted the gender pay gap.
Most notable is its mark on the highly technical AI industry. There, the gender gap is three times larger than in other sectors, with women making up just 22 percent of the workforce.
Not only is that harmful for advancing pay parity and gender equality more generally, but it also creates issues for the technology itself. After all, the ultimate goal of AI is to think like a human and mimic the way humans behave. If that intelligence is programmed almost exclusively by men, there's a risk that gender biases will slip into the machines, too.
"It is absolutely crucial that those people who create AI are representative of the population as a whole," Kay Firth-Butterfield, WEF's head of artificial intelligence and machine learning, told CNBC. A lack of diversity means "we're not actually reflecting the population and we have a huge problem," she added.
“ 创造AI的人士要代表着整个人类，这点绝对至关重要，”世界经济论坛AI和机器学习负责人Kay Firth-Butterfield告诉CNBC。缺乏多样性意味着“我们实际上没有代表人类，我们有一个大问题，”她补充说。
The report noted that some industries and institutions are making progress in encouraging more women to become involved in emerging technologies. Chief among them were the education and health-care sectors and non-profits, where the talent pool of women in AI outweighed men. But it called for more work to be done.
"The diversity — including gender diversity — of views among innovators is vital to ensuring the economic opportunities created by AI do not increase existing gender inequalities, and that new AI systems serve the needs of society at large," the report said.