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How Companies Can Empower Women in the Age of AI

The future of AI and women’s empowerment were the topics of a recent roundtable discussion at Salesforce Tower Sydney, hosted in partnership with Women’s Agenda.

Salesforce’s Rowena Westphalen, SVP of Customers, Innovation, and AI, and Renata Bertram, Salesforce ANZ Chief Marketing Officer, were joined by several influential women from various industries, backgrounds, and companies, including Atlassian, Canva, KPMG Australia, and UNSW.

The discussion followed recent Salesforce research commissioned in collaboration with YouGov, which revealed a significant gender gap among Australian office workers when it comes to sentiment towards AI inclusivity and representation in the workplace. The research found:

  • Male office workers are driving that adoption, with 61% of men already using the technology compared to 40% of women
  • 70% of men surveyed claimed to trust generative AI, compared to just 43% of women.
  • Women showed higher concern regarding the role of generative AI in decision-making processes (88%) compared to men (78%).

Expanding upon these findings, the discussion dove deeper into how companies can contribute to forging an equitable AI future. 

Tackling the trust gap

Seeking to understand why women are more wary of generative AI than men, a number of reasons emerged, many of which are based on historical gender, cultural, and demographic biases.

Among them is the fear of further marginalisation. The adoption of AI may disproportionately affect roles more typically held by women, such as administrative tasks, leading to concerns about job security and control over technology. Relatedly, the lack of representation from women in the development of AI raised scepticism among participants. In addition, women are disproportionately targeted by malicious AI-generated content like deep fakes.

In spite of this, most participants viewed AI as more of an opportunity than a threat to Australian workplaces.

So how can businesses empower women to leverage generative AI and maximise the economic benefit of doing so?

Alongside providing access to training initiatives and resources, panellists discussed organisations need to shift their culture to provide a safe environment for employees to experiment with generative AI tools. As Alice Young, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader at Atlassian, noted, the uptake of generative AI amongst their women and men employees is almost 50-50, which she attributes to their culture of testing and learning.

Image Credit: Women’s Agenda

Empowerment through education

In line with Salesforce’s research findings, education, and training emerged as a clear pathway to empowerment.

Participants noted a lack of access to AI training, emphasising the need for inclusive training programs within corporations to empower diverse talent.

Education and training are crucial for helping employees to navigate AI technologies responsibly. The majority (88%) of Australian office workers surveyed reported feeling concerned by a lack of relevant training regarding generative AI in the workplace. Sustainable education initiatives should be prioritised to ensure everyone has baseline knowledge.

One of the ways Salesforce is helping pave the way for the future of work is through Trailhead, its free online learning platform. Trailhead can guide individuals with limited technical knowledge into Salesforce roles within six months and has expanded its content to include AI-specific skills training.

Prioritising trust and accountability

Participants stressed the importance of transparency in AI decision-making processes. Prioritising ethical practices and accountability is essential for building trust among users and employees. Promoting transparency, accountability, and ethical decision-making within organisations is essential to address biases and inequalities in AI adoption.

Salesforce takes a trust-first approach to AI and seeks to empower employees, partners, and users to consider the technology’s potential benefits and harms, as well as ultimately empower them to use data and AI responsibly. To this end, the company established Salesforce’s Office of Ethical and Humane Use in 2018. A main focus for this team of late is embedding trust into the core of Salesforce’s AI products – like the Einstein Trust Layer, a collection of features and guardrails that protect the privacy and security of company data, improve the safety and accuracy of AI results and promote the responsible use of AI across organisations. This is achieved through features including secure data retrieval, zero data retention, toxicity detection, and audit trail & feedback.

Empowering everyone in the age of AI

It’s the role of businesses and their leaders to ensure that trust keeps pace with new technology and that everyone can harness AI’s incredible potential so that no one gets left behind.

The future of AI holds promise, but as panellists shared, it will require a collective effort to ensure ethical and inclusive adoption. Salesforce research and this discussion clearly show that when it comes to AI adoption in the workplace, companies must take a holistic approach that prioritises diversity, ethics, ongoing education, and collaboration.

A more detailed report from Women’s Agenda will be published in April.

Learn more:

  • Learn about Einstein AI
  • Check out this piece on generative AI’s future, penned by Salesforce AI’s Chief Scientist
  • Access Trailhead’s new AI learning here

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