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AI Can Help Working Women Become Better Negotiators

AI can guard against gender bias and empower women in the workplace...

Forbes reported last year that 80 percent of companies have already implemented some form of artificial intelligence (AI) while 30 percent plan to expand their AI investments in the next three years. It’s clear why: AI promises to reduce costs, boost efficiency and help employees achieve more productivity.

While AI offers us many advantages in the way we work, it also provides a seemingly random benefit: helping women become better negotiators. 

Women have long suffered from fewer economic opportunities as men, and they continue to earn only 82 cents to a man’s dollar. Part of the problem is that women face significant negotiation hurdles. Glassdoor research concludes that 68 percent of women accept starting salaries without negotiating compared to 52 percent of men.

With the pressure on companies to demonstrate progressive change in 2019, it goes without saying that they have an ethical obligation to provide equal pay for equal work. Even so, there are ways women can empower themselves to help close the pay gap by becoming better negotiators —  and AI could be the tech that helps them achieve that: 

‘Hagglebots’ Lend Support & Strategy

In a world of ingrained gender inequality, research indicates that women don’t negotiate as much as their male counterparts, in part, because they don’t receive the support they need to build confidence. Other times, women fear they’ll be penalized for their ambitions. But that’s where AI may lend a strategic hand.

Science Magazine mentions that “hagglebots,” or AI-driven negotiation systems, can offer a variety of applications when women fail to reach the best agreements. Currently, negotiation support software assists users by suggesting equally beneficial outcomes on sites like eBay. In a job negotiation scenario, it can use data to track issues previously discussed in career conversations, helping women build constructive strategies by assessing the best ways to find a middle ground with superiors.

Computer scientist Tim Baarslag explains how these systems pick up on specific patterns. For example, your boss may have dismissed a large salary increase in previous meetings. In those same meetings, the employee may have brought up parental challenges like child care more than once. The software identifies these patterns and can suggest that employees negotiate for an extra work from home day instead. 

Indeed, AI’s negotiation skills are improving. Facebook experimented and trained AI bots to negotiate between themselves and replicate human negotiation techniques. Built with learning algorithms, the bots were able to evaluate different actions and their possible outcomes. Additionally, the tools were able to help users leverage information and determine the best deals possible during a negotiation. The experiment demonstrated how bots are easily trained to imitate linguistic and logical patterns of human behavior, paving the way for them to assist in real-world transactions in the future. 

Fully autonomous bots can’t negotiate on their own just yet, but in the future, it may help women thrive at work. Users will need to feed the bots information for now, but Baarslag says that solving political arguments could be done efficiently in virtually any marketplace or industry. 

Guard Against Gender Bias 

Research shows women are often better at negotiating when they’re doing so on behalf of someone else, not themselves. The articles goes on to report that when it’s on their own behalf, the systems-that-be often expect women to be collaborative in the negotiation process so as to not seem combative. Harvard Business Review examined this “social cost” of negotiating for women. Both male and female professionals were less interested in working with women who try to negotiate better salaries versus men with similar ambitions. Clearly, unconscious bias attributes to the anxiety and insecurity working women experience surrounding salary negotiations.

While women have tried their best to strategize around these barriers since entering the workforce, AI may provide an actual solution. Some tech companies actively seek to improve unconscious bias through programming. Scientists at DeepMind are attempting to eliminate the human bias element through their AI system, the Generative Query Network (GQN). The framework places AI bots in learning environments so they can form their own observations about the world. In doing so, the bots could help employers adhere to fair negotiation practices, identifying and signaling against unconscious bias so employers can understand where and why they were unfair.

San Francisco company, Kanjoya, uses natural language processing (computer algorithms that read for tone and context) to limit gender bias and discrimination. The system processes hundreds of millions of words with emotions so they can determine why a particular subject is being brought up in surveys. Kanjoya then aggregates these and cross references it with hard evidence like starting salary across a particular industry or a specific job position. For example, if more women mention salary, career development or work/life balance in a negative context, the system can indicate to employers that these issues more readily affect women.

Entelo, another San Francisco startup, uses unbiased sourcing models, a tool that anonymizes job candidates. The machine redacts names, photos, gender and other information deemed preferential against a candidate. 

Currently, these tools are used for the hiring process, but imagine if everyone could use these technologies to base salary on the professional attributes and accomplishments regardless of gender identification during the review stage. It would help ensure that women get as fair treatment as possible during pay reviews. With the passing of California’s strict Fair Pay Act —  a law that puts the burden of proof on companies to show they haven’t shortchanged an employee’s salary based on gender — we could soon see the promotion of these technologies in other places across the country. 

Autonomous Tools Inspire More Professional Women

It’s not that women aren’t naturally bad at negotiating, it’s that the structures that keep them disadvantaged are, by and large, what cause them to have less confidence than men during negotiations. To counteract this effect, AI has huge potential going forward. We already have the foundational technologies and processes, but it’s up to employers and leaders to expand them in the workspace. 

Companies may find AI intimidating, but since the technology can help put an end to sexism in the workplace and improve the way we communicate, it is definitely worth consideration — not just for the benefit of women but for business as a whole.

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