The Business Imperative of Female Leadership in AI

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By Ana Paula Assis

AI has emerged as a transformative  force that is reshaping businesses, economies, and societies worldwide. Business leaders in 2024 are at the forefront of this shift, responsible for guiding their organisations through this period of transition, and the strategies they implement today will have a lasting impact on the shape of their industries.

For AI to fulfil its potential and create a positive impact, its leadership needs to be reflective of our society at large, developed by diverse voices, for everyone.

This is a huge responsibility and one that should not be held by a small demographic of people. For AI to fulfil its potential and create a positive impact, its leadership needs to be reflective of our society at large, developed by diverse voices, for everyone. A pivotal aspect of this is ensuring that female business leaders take a prominent position in the forefront of the AI revolution.

To explore this very topic, IBM EMEA has launched a new report, “Female Leadership in the age of AI”. Based on a survey of 4,000 senior business leaders in companies with 250+ employees across France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, the UAE, and the UK, the research examines how female business leaders are preparing for the AI journey, how their leadership experiences differ from those of their male counterparts, and how we can ensure that women have the tools they need to lead confidently.

While the technology sector has often grappled with diversity issues at its highest levels, this year we have the perfect opportunity to embrace the significant shifts occurring in the business landscape and place female leadership firmly on the agenda.

The Importance of Getting It Right

Increasing female leadership in the age of AI is not a “nice to have”; it is of paramount importance from a commercial, strategic, and societal standpoint.

This sentiment was felt strongly by the respondents in our research, with 73 per cent of EMEA business leaders agreeing that increased female leadership in the sector is important for mitigating gender bias in AI. From a technical standpoint, this is critical. AI – particularly generative AI – learns from its developers and users, so the participation of women in these processes is critical to mitigate the risk of unconscious bias that could arise without their direct involvement.

In addition, 74 per cent of respondents see female leadership as important for ensuring that the economic benefits of AI are felt equally in society. The socioeconomic impact of AI will be far-reaching and shaped by where investment is directed, which industries deploy effectively, which demographics are most affected by the shifting job market, and what societal challenges will be prioritised. Ensuring that we have diverse leadership at the top will be a critical part of ensuring fairness and equally felt benefits.

The Confidence Gap

Successful and efficient AI leadership will require business leaders to expand their skills and engage in continuous self-education around AI developments, new regulations, and compliance.

Our research found that both female and male leaders are preparing for the AI revolution on an equal footing, upskilling and training their personal digital skills, educating themselves on the shifting regulatory landscape, and creating internal compliance frameworks in equal numbers.

However, one significant difference between the two groups was that of confidence in their leadership abilities: 46 per cent of female respondents said they were strongly confident in their ability to lead their organisation in the era of AI, compared to almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of male respondents.

Enabling female leaders in the AI era needs to go beyond technical training and include a comprehensive approach, providing women with the right resources and support systems to overcome barriers and grow in confidence.

This confidence gap is stark, especially when our data showed that female leaders are preparing just as effectively as their male peers. It tells us that enabling female leaders in the AI era needs to go beyond technical training and include a comprehensive approach, providing women with the right resources and support systems to overcome barriers and grow in confidence.

According to McKinsey, in 2023 only 22 per cent of all the tech roles across European companies were held by women – a pressing issue that requires fresh attention.

The reasonws behind this gender gap are multifaceted. When we asked our respondents what they thought the biggest barrier for women in tech was, there was no consensus, with 25 per cent believing a lack of digital education at school level was the primary obstacle, and another 25 per cent blaming the tech companies for a lack of genuine interest in diversity and inclusion. Other popular reasons were a lack of representation at C-suite level and inadequate family policies within companies.

The Path Forward for Female Leaders in AI

Recognising the importance of female leadership in the age of AI goes beyond addressing gender disparities; it is integral to building a technologically advanced and socially responsible future. Our research shows that when it comes to preparing for the age of AI, women are stepping up, honing their technical skills and participation in the creation of AI strategies at the same rate as men, yet are still lacking in the same levels of confidence.

As we progress into 2024 and navigate the complexities of the shifting AI landscape, fostering an environment that values and empowers female leaders must be a priority for businesses and a central part of building an inclusive AI ecosystem.

About the Author

Ana Paula AssisAna Paula Assis is the Chair and General Manager for IBM Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) since January 2022. In this role, she is responsible for IBM’s business operations, driving revenue growth, client satisfaction and employee engagement in a region with more than 100 countries.

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