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How to Address the AI Adoption Gender Gap

Research suggests that women are less likely than men to use AI at work and in their personal lives. In a Charter survey from last year, for example, women were 13 percentage points less likely to say that they’re using generative AI tools in their jobs than men. A new working paper provides some of the best evidence of this gap to date.

The researchers studied ChatGPT adoption in Denmark, surveying 100,000 workers in 11 occupations exposed to AI. After receiving complete responses from about 18,000 people, the researchers analyzed adoption trends and landed on several interesting results. One finding, in particular, stands out: Women are 20 percentage points less likely to use ChatGPT than their male counterparts in the same occupation. 

In other words, this is an apples-to-apples comparison. “You take two software developers or you take two paralegals or two teachers—on average, there's a 20-percentage-point difference in the use of ChatGPT,” says Anders Humlum, one of the paper’s authors and an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “That was just a really stunning and very surprising finding from my perspective.” 

We spoke with Humlum about AI adoption patterns, the ChatGPT adoption gender gap, and what employers can do to help close it. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Lack of training is the biggest barrier to ChatGPT adoption. The Denmark survey found that a large share of workers who believe ChatGPT can save them time at work still don’t plan to use it in the next two weeks. When they asked those respondents why they don’t plan on using ChatGPT in the short term, 43% said that they needed training before they could benefit from the tool. That was the most popular response. “They acknowledge that ChatGPT is useful in grading exams if you're a teacher, or revising code if you're a software developer,” explains Humlum. “But [for] actually being able to reap those time savings, workers say that they need some initial training in how to use the tool. That's very surprising given that a feature of ChatGPT is that it's very user-friendly—it's a chatbot.”

  • Workplace restrictions are the second-biggest barrier to adoption. “We're aware that in certain sectors…employers have been worried about inputting sensitive data into the chatbot and the chatbot outputting stuff that is not meeting, for example, legal standards,” says Humlum. The researchers found that 35% of workers who believe ChatGPT can save time at work are not allowed to use it. This was higher for occupations like financial advisors and legal professionals, where the risks of problematic outputs are potentially higher. 

  • Women are more likely to say they need training. It’s difficult to say for certain what’s causing the gender gap in ChatGPT usage. There are, however, some explanations we can rule out, explains Humlum. It’s not the case, for example, that women are more skeptical about the time-savings potential of ChatGPT. What does seem to be true is that women, on average, are less confident than men when it comes to ChatGPT. For example, when asked why they don’t intend on using ChatGPT in the next two weeks despite believing it could increase productivity, women are more likely than men to say that they need training before they could benefit from the tool. (Men are more likely to say that workplace restrictions prevent them from using it.) Workers, on average, believe ChatGPT will increase their productivity less than it will for the typical worker. When asked why, women were more likely than men to say they don’t know how to use the chatbot. And while men and women both believe ChatGPT could increase productivity on work tasks, women across all 11 occupations reported lower levels of certainty in their answers. 

What to do:

“There's no structural reason why this gender gap should exist. It's not that men have larger gains from this technology,” says Humlum. “I think they were just faster to jump right into it. But that also means that there's a huge potential for women to catch up right now. The fact that they say that they need some training, I think puts employers in a really unique position to provide that training in order to close that gender gap.” Here’s what that training could include:

  • A crash course on how to use genAI tools like ChatGPT. “You don't actually need that much training—a day would be sufficient to get up to speed with how you prompt ChatGPT,” says Humlum. 

  • Policies or initiatives that encourage workers to form a habit of using the tool. Humlum explains that one obstacle to adopting ChatGPT or similar tools is that we haven’t formed a habit of using them. “I have to force myself all the time to use it…I have another default workflow that works, but [it’s] maybe not ideal anymore given that this tool is now available.” Here are some ways to help you and your team form that habit:

  1. Dedicate 15 minutes to experimentation every day for two months. Wharton associate professor Ethan Mollick encourages people to spend 10 hours experimenting with ChatGPT or other genAI tools to understand where they’re helpful versus unhelpful. Create a daily 15-minute calendar entry, dedicated to using genAI tools to help you accomplish some of the tasks you have to do that day.

  2. Make it a rule that everyone on your team has to use their favorite chatbot a certain number of times per week. Humlum gives an example of his co-author’s friend who’s a journalist in Denmark. The publication initially barred employees from using ChatGPT because they were concerned about copyright infringement. Now, their editor-in-chief encourages employees to use it on a regular basis, with some guidance on what they should and should not use it for. “They have to consult the tool just to build the habit,” explains Humlum.

  3. Set two daily reminders to use the tool. When you see each reminder, try using your favorite chatbot to finish whatever task you’re working on.

  4. Bookmark your favorite chatbot in your browser. This removes some of the friction of searching for it, and it serves a constant visual reminder to use it.


Article by Jacob Clemente.

©2024, Charter Works, Inc. This article is reprinted with permission from Charter Works, Inc. All rights reserved.


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