December 17, 2018 / 11:16 PM / 6 months ago

Economic parity between the sexes looks stagnant: report

FILE PHOTO: People walk through the financial district of Canary Wharf, London, Britain 28 September 2017. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

(Reuters) - Growth of economic equality between the sexes appears to be stalling globally as proportionately fewer women join the workforce than men, and artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies are rife with gender gaps, according to a World Economic Forum report released on Monday.

Women saw gains this year in some measures of economic parity, such as income, but declines in access to healthcare and education and political involvement, according to the report.

“The overall picture is that gender equality has stalled,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of social and economic agendas at the World Economic Forum (WEF). “The future of our labor market may not be as equal as the trajectory we thought we were on.”

Zahidi said participation of men in the workforce has increased more than women. This trend may be due to the impact of automation on jobs held by women and because women often are responsible for unpaid work including childcare, according to the report.

Women are under-represented in growing areas of employment that require science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and knowledge, the report finds.

The WEF highlights that women represent only 22 percent of the workforce for artificial intelligence, a major driver of innovation focused on machine learning. As artificial intelligence grows, the divide between the sexes in the field may widen, according to the report.

The analysis, which also uses data from professional networking firm LinkedIn, shows that women working in artificial intelligence are less likely than men to be in high-profile positions. They often work as data analysts or researchers, while men find employment as heads of engineering and information technology, according to the report.

“It’s going to be one of the roles growing in demand in the future,” Zahidi said. “It’s a general purpose technology used across multiple sectors. Who’s developing this technology matters.”

The WEF calls for proactive measures to prevent the divide from growing in other industries that are applying artificial intelligence, including male-dominated fields such as manufacturing, hardware and networking.

Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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