Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

This is how AI can empower women and achieve gender equality, according to the founder of Girls Who Code and Moms First

Ricardo Hausmann, Founder and Director, Growth Lab, Harvard University, USA, David Edwards, General Secretary, Education International, Belgium, Karien van Gennip, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, Reshma Saujani, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Moms First, USA, Michael Sen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Fresenius, Germany speaking in the "The Workforce Behind the Workforce" session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 16 January. Congress Centre -  Salon Room. Copyright: World Economic Forum/Jakob Polacsek

Moms First launched an AI tool that can help parents in New York find out what paid leave they're entitled to. Image: Unsplash/dylan nolte

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Horizon Scan: Nita Farahany

  • Reshma Saujani set up Moms First to campaign for affordable childcare, paid family leave and equal pay for mothers.
  • Moms First launched PaidLeave.ai to help parents in New York State find out what paid leave they are entitled to.
  • In this interview, recorded at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Saujani explains why she founded the campaign and how the AI tool can inspire others.

For many working parents across the globe, the costs of childcare are so high, it can actually be unaffordable to go to work.

In the UK, almost half of parents have gone into debt or withdrawn savings to pay for childcare, according to the campaign Pregnant Then Screwed. While in the US, childcare expenses outweigh mortgage payments.

Unaffordable childcare has a particular impact on working women. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools and nurseries were forced to close, as many as 113 million women aged between 25 and 54 with young children were out of the workforce, according to the International Labour Organization.

It explains why women’s participation in the US labour market has stagnated after decades of growth that narrowed the gender gap.

Women make up nearly half of the labor force; share will remain steady over the next decade
How women’s labour force participation has plateaued in the US. Image: Pew Research

“It's not because we don't have confidence. It's not because we don't have enough mentors or sponsors or we didn't do enough power poses. It's because we don't have the structural change that we need, as women and as mothers. And that means paid leave, childcare and equal pay for equal work,” says Reshma Saujani, founder of Moms First, which campaigns to give parents affordable childcare, paid family leave and achieve equal pay for mothers.

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Saujani, who founded the non-profit Girls Who Code in 2012 to help get more girls into tech careers, set up Moms First in response to the numbers of women pushed out of the workforce in the US during the pandemic.

“Now we're years away from the pandemic and we still haven't made those structural changes. And so mothers are still struggling to stay in the labour market.”

In this edited interview with the World Economic Forum’s Meet The Leader podcast, Saujani explains how she set up an AI tool to help working parents – and what companies can do.

How has the situation changed for mothers since the pandemic?

Many of them have downshifted their careers, changed jobs, and are barely hanging on. We have a mental health crisis for mothers in the United States where alcoholism rates, drug rates have skyrocketed, suicide rates have skyrocketed.

Before the pandemic, so many people thought, ‘Well, if I'm not able to balance my career and my family, something's wrong with me. I married the wrong person. I just don't have good organization skills’. Now you realize, ‘Wait, it's not me. It's the structure. It's the policies in this nation that do not support me’. And you're looking around for help. I think that that is why now so many mothers understand that the system is broken and that something needs to be done.

Have you read?

Moms First launched an AI tool called PaidLeave.ai. Why – and what does it do?

My state, New York, is one of the 13 states that offers paid leave in America. But only 20% of those that are eligible for paid leave actually apply to get it because it's so confusing and complicated. If you're a single mum working in retail, you have 15 minutes to figure this out, so you just give up. And that means food doesn't get put on the table because they lose that $10,000 in wages that they would have received or got in benefits. But having high levels of uptake is critical for the passage of a federal bill.

My friend Sam Altman at OpenAI connected me with this amazing development team called Novy.ai. And we kind of got our heads together. We had some focus groups with mums around what would actually really help parents. We launched PaidLeave.ai just for New York State in December and within the first few days, we had 25,000 parents on the website.

When you go to PaidLeave.ai, it offers you prompts in every language. ‘I just found out I'm having a baby’. ‘My employer offers some paid leave. How many months do I get?’ And so it very simply tells you: are you eligible? How much money can you put in your pockets? And it gives you an action plan of what to do next.

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What’s next for PaidLeave.ai?

We're going to scale it further in all 13 states that do actually offer paid leave, and show that the tool does increase the uptake of benefits. It does actually fix pain points for families that are navigating the website, whether they're in New York or California.

And then we want to put a numerical value on it. It's not just $10,000 in wages that you'll get, but all the downstream and upstream benefits you can measure: better health outcomes for families, better job outcomes for families.

What have you learned from building the tool?

I learned a couple of things: The first is that the government does a really bad job at customer service. And generative AI can actually do a great job in increasing trust between citizens and governments by enabling you to get the benefits that your taxpayer dollars have paid for.

This tool is applicable to so many different things, like the earned income tax credit or SNAP, or healthcare, or unemployment insurance. One of the things we wanted to do by launching this tool was to inspire others to innovate. AI will only be as good as we are. So if we sit in fear of AI and that prevents us from innovating, we're not going to make progress.

I think AI can solve our biggest problems and it can empower women, people of colour, poor people – who don't often have access to technology – to be on the front line of creating the next set of tools.

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How can people upskill themselves to create similar AI tools?

What I love about PaidLeave.ai is the vast majority of those using it are women. So I think people should go to PaidLeave.ai, play around with it and understand what generative AI is.

Secondly, we all have to get better at prompt engineering because if gen AI takes over the world, humans are only going to be as good as we know how to prompt. People need to learn, what are the questions I should ask to make sure that AI can augment my intelligence?

How do the experiences of launching Moms First and Girls Who Code compare?

I had built one of the largest women and girls non-profits in the world. I'd raised $100 million over 10 years. My team and I had shifted the narrative in the conversation of girls and technology. When I came into building Moms First, I thought it was going to be easy. But it was a real eye-opener.

In many ways, solving the problems of mums is different to solving the problems of girls. It's often easier to get people to invest in helping girls than it is in helping women. This was a problem that was relatable, that people had experienced, but it was something that was in the margins. Convincing people that it was an economic issue, not a personal issue, was not as easy as I thought it was going to be.

Discover

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

What can companies do to support working parents?

Do something on childcare. You don't have to build a childcare centre, but do something. It might just be providing back-up care, not penalizing flexibility or remote work when there's a crisis, or when you just want to spend a little more time with your kids. It's providing childcare subsidies.

The thing that families are going to care about, especially this millennial generation, is how you treat their families. It's not going to be about whether you pay for gym membership. It's going to be, ‘Can I actually be an active dad? Can I take Johnny to school or take time when he's sick? And are you still going to offer me my promotion and value my work?’ Valuing me means valuing my family and my family responsibilities, and not forcing me to choose between those identities.

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Equity, Diversity and InclusionEmerging Technologies
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