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Had a baby? It could be your secret weapon in the future of work

·4-min read
In the artificial intelligence revolution, emotional intelligence is going to be a sought-after skill. (Images: Getty).
In the artificial intelligence revolution, emotional intelligence is going to be a sought-after skill. (Images: Getty).

Around one-in-two Australian mothers experience discrimination either while pregnant, or upon returning to the paid workforce.

However, the skills women develop during child-caring periods are often undervalued, according to University of Melbourne social and political sciences associate professor Leah Ruppanner.

And, with the artificial intelligence revolution upon us, they’re also the skills that will help women get ahead.

“We always hear, ‘We don’t have enough coders, and we don’t have enough people in STEM…’ The parallel of that is that we also need to have the soft skills: empathy, adaptability, creativity,” Ruppanner told Yahoo Finance.

Critically, these are also the soft skills that are often developed in the role of caregiver.

As Vodafone’s resourcing manager Gaynor Topham said in a report for SEEK, mothers have often mastered communication, people management and problem-solving skills.

The last step is attaching those skills to the AI revolution.

That is what the University of Melbourne is trying to do with its microcredential program. 

Using microtraining to bridge the AI gap

The University of Melbourne launched its micro-certificates program, Melbourne MicroCerts, in 2021 to help Australians upskill in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MicroCerts focus on leadership, data and digital transformation, creative thinking and communication, education, sustainability and health and innovation.

To Ruppanner, microcredential programs offer opportunities to “re-tether” women back to the paid workforce, boost confidence and plug productivity gaps.

Ruppanner is one of the three women teaching the Artificial Intelligence and Women course, and has spent 20 years examining the interplay between working families and gender equality.

For individual women, she believes it’s critical that they have a working understanding of AI and the digital transformation landscape, and consider upskilling to obtain this.

It’s not so that all women can become coders; it’s so that women – and particularly women returning to the paid workforce – can harness their current skills to take advantage of the mega-shift.

The latest AI100 2021 Study Panel report, which tracks artificial intelligence and its impact on society, found that AI is more firmly embedded in daily life than ever before.

"Although the current state of AI technology is still far short of the field’s founding aspiration of recreating full human-like intelligence in machines, research and development teams are leveraging these advances and incorporating them into society-facing applications," the researchers said.

However, the report authors believe fears that AI will essentially take human workers' jobs are overplayed. 

The solution isn't making everyone a blockchain engineer

In Australia, only 17 per cent of information technology and 16 per cent of engineering degrees are awarded to women, with female students more likely to complete education (74 per cent women), health (73.6 per cent female) and social sciences (65 per cent female) degrees.

But the one thing Ruppanner doesn’t want women to do is think, “I’ve done the wrong degree. I did an arts degree, when I should have done a computer science degree.”

And she doesn’t want women to feel like, given their career choices, that learning about blockchain or AI is too complicated.

For Ruppanner, it's about ensuring that Australian women understand enough about these advancements and applications to move confidently through the workplace.

“We conducted a survey under COVID-19 and asked people if they felt they had the right skills for the future of work, and women were more likely to feel like they didn’t have the right skills,” Ruppanner said.

This isn’t necessarily bridged by making every woman into a blockchain whizz, she emphasised.

Rather, it’s to help women understand how their institutions will change, and their future roles with it.

To do this, it's about amplifying the soft skills workers already have.

“What we’re trying to do is say, ‘You’re living in this world every single day,” she said.

“Your organisation is making decisions around this [AI], you’re using it all the time. And if you can just have some of the basic understanding around it, you’ll be able to participate in the conversation.”

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