What Impact Might Automation Have on the Diversity in Public Service?
Researchers believe that the first in line for AI-related redundancies will be women and people of color.
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Predictions about the impact of autonomous technologies on the workplace have been as varied as they have been numerous. What we all agree on, however, is that there will be some kind of impact. The latest study to offer up a prediction comes from the University of Kansas and explores the impact automation might have on the public sector. The study looks not only at the traditional aspects of the automation of work but also whether the introduction of new technologies might influence the equity of service provision.
The authors make a debatable start by arguing that many of the investments in automated technology are driven by efficiency concerns, which is a proxy for layoffs and reduced headcount, and while this is fine and dandy in the private sector, the public sector has more noble ends and must also aim for both the fair and equitable delivery of vital services to the public and the creation of an equal opportunity workforce.
This latter point is one of particular concern for the researchers, who believe that the first in line for AI-related redundancies will be women and people of color. This assertion has a degree of evidence behind it, as women and minorities were disproportionately affected by layoffs in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, with data from the Economic Policy Institute revealing that despite women making up just under half of the state and local government workforce, they represented over 70% of the jobs that were lost.
Deciding to Automate
The researchers leaned heavily on the work done by Oxford's Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne that estimated the risk of various jobs to automation. They combined this data with that from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to try and understand the gender and racial characteristics of employees who hold the jobs most at risk in both state and local government.
The analysis found that public sector jobs are already quite highly segregated by gender and/or race, with 72% of paraprofessional jobs and 85% of administrative support worker jobs held by women. These are both areas that Frey and Osborne suggest are at high risk of automation.
"If automation targets jobs that are already segregated by gender or race, it is also important to consider how the decision to automate may impact the public sector's commitment to cultivating a diverse workforce and ensuring equal employment opportunity," the authors say.
It should be said that there is considerable doubt about the reliability of the Frey and Osborne stats, and there is no suggestion that even if jobs are lost that they will be lost at the same time. Despite the inherent uncertainty in what the authors are proposing, they nonetheless believe that it's important to understand the potential risks involved in introducing technology into public service.
Given the significant pressures on public authorities to deliver ever more services with squeezed budgets, there must exist a considerable risk should they not invest in the latest technologies. That's not to say that personnel issues should not be considered, but it's important to remember that the primary goal of any public body is to serve the public. They don't exist to massage employment numbers.
That's not to say, of course, that diversity is not significantly important to an organization, and I've written numerous times about the value of a diverse workforce to any organization, merely that failing to adequately invest in technology is likely to do far more damage to public services than investing poorly in them.
Published at DZone with permission of Adi Gaskell, DZone MVB. See the original article here.
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