Women have the edge on soft skills to succeed in the age of AI—it might be the magic fix to smash the glass ceiling

Recent advancements have seen women make significant strides in climbing the corporate ladder, yet new research from LinkedIn reveals that a persistent glass ceiling is stalling their progress. LinkedIn's findings indicate that the proportion of women hired into leadership roles in the U.K. increased from 31.6% in 2016 to 37.8% in 2022. However, this upward trend has stagnated over the past two years, with 2024 figures showing a decrease to 37.1%. Ireland stands out as the only European country assessed by LinkedIn where this metric improved last year, yet the global trend has been downward in recent years.

This development suggests that the initial, simpler gains for workplace diversity have already been achieved, and achieving true parity will require either incremental progress or a major overhaul of workplace practices. Additionally, it underscores the harsh realities women face during economic downturns. Sue Duke, LinkedIn’s VP of global public policy & economic graph, notes that “the marginal progress made in recent years for women entering leadership roles is being eroded, as women pay the price for a cooling economy." Consequently, female representation in leadership has seen a minuscule increase of less than 1% over six years.

Long-term barriers continue to hinder progress as women's careers advance, with maternity care being a notable obstacle that has proven difficult to dismantle completely. These barriers are so entrenched that it is improbable for Gen Z women to close the gender pay gap before retiring. A June report by PwC highlights this, stating, “Gender pay parity remains out of sight for a 21-year-old woman entering the workforce today and the analysis suggests it will take over 45 years to close the gender pay gap in the U.K.”

Despite these challenges, LinkedIn data offers a glimmer of hope through the AI revolution. The platform predicts significant changes in the skills required for jobs by 2030, with an emphasis on soft, interpersonal skills like leadership and collaboration, which women predominantly possess. LinkedIn data shows that women have a 28% higher share of these soft skills compared to men. While this outlook on AI's potential to positively shift gender dynamics is promising, Sue Duke cautions that women need to remain vigilant against its adverse effects, as men currently dominate the AI talent pool and women are at greater risk of being negatively impacted by the technology. Duke emphasizes that “opportunities for women to make progress in their careers will disappear unless employers consider gender when upskilling to ensure that the workplace is transformed fairly and equitably”.

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