Men typically have been more open to embracing new technologies in the workplace than women, but that may be changing – at least in the tech industry – with GenAI.

A report this week by the Boston Consulting Group found that women in tech are essentially on par – and in some situations, much more willing – than their male counterparts when it comes to the rapidly emerging technology.

Overall, 68% of women surveyed say they use generative AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Copilot, or Google’s Gemini at work more than once a week, while 66% of men said the same thing. However, that changes when talking about women in senior technical roles, including engineering, IT, customer support, sales and marketing.

About 75% of women who are in senior roles as individual contributors (ICs) use generative AI in the workplace, compared with 63% of men, while the difference among junior managers is even more, with 72% of women using generative AI, where only 56% of men in such roles do. The spread for senior managers is similar (76% of women and 64% of men). The only technical area where men have taken the lead position is among junior ICs.

The deficit for women is even more pronounced among those with no technical functions in their jobs, with the difference ranging from two to 21 percentage points in favor of men.

The numbers come from a global survey by Boston Consulting of more than 6,500 women and men employees at tech companies whose jobs span seniority levels and functions. Another 15 women leaders in the industry also offered their insights on the situation.

“Although men and women have similar levels of trust in GenAI tools to meet their objectives, and feel equally competent using them, the report identifies three significant factors that contribute to gender disparities in the adoption of GenAI,” the firm wrote.

Awareness, Confidence are Factors

One factor was the awareness of generative AI’s role in ensuring job success. Women leaders – particular those that come with technical functions – are more aware than men, though women in junior roles are less aware, according to the report. This correlates with the feeling that women need to overperform in a tech industry that is largely dominated by men. A female CIO of a semiconductor company told the consulting firm that senior women in tech “have broken barriers to get where they are, but they still feel they need to prove themselves and take more initiative than men to be abreast with what’s important for their careers [such as GenAI].”

Senior women in non-technical roles are almost on par with their male coworkers, with a female board member of an IT services company saying that as they move up the career ladder, they’re “in the right rooms and know what will be important in the future.”

At the junior level, women trail men, and the study found that junior men in technical positions are on par with senior men with similar functions, and only 13 percentage points behind senior men with non-technical roles. The report attributes this to junior women not having the same access as their male counterparts to networks and discussions where generative AI strategy is being created and aren’t equally represented in pilots and initiatives using the technology.

Another factor is confidence in their generative AI skills, and the breakdown is similar. Senior women in technical roles are ahead of men by four percentage points while their female peers with non-technical functions are eight percentage points behind. Junior women in general also are behind.

“This lack of confidence is the only attribute in our research that explains why senior women in nontechnical functions, who are aware enough and senior enough to understand that GenAI will be critical to their future success, lag their men colleagues in GenAI’s adoption,” the report’s authors wrote. “We posit that these senior women, starting at a lower technology-skills confidence level, may not have had the time needed to experiment with GenAI and build that confidence.”

This is due in large part to the fact that the industry is much more likely to treat women rather than men as if they were less competent.

The tolerance for risk is another factor, with women leaders in both technical and non-technical roles having a risk tolerance that is equal to, or more, than their male counterparts. The authors noted that “by virtue of having broken barriers to get where they are today, senior women have learned how to take risks in order to succeed in their work.”

Businesses Can Close the Gap

The statistics collected by Boston Consulting run counter to what some other studies have found. While the consulting group looked particularly at the tech industry, the World Economic Forum last month pointed to a study by the Oliver Wyman Forum that found that, of 25,000 working adults worldwide – and not only in the tech world – surveyed, 59% of men use generative AI tools once a week, compared with 51% of women.

In addition, the gap was widest among younger workers, with 71% of men ages 18 to 24 use the technology weekly, while 59% of women in the age group did.

“Left unaddressed, this disparity could not only magnify gender imbalances in traditional ‘pink collar’ occupations susceptible to automation, such as customer service, education and health care, but also limit opportunities for women in the occupations of the future,” the forum wrote.

That said, both Boston Consulting and the World Economic Forum noted that companies have the power to change trends and close the gender gap when it comes to women and technology. Boston Consulting noted a number of steps, from clearly and widely articulating the critical role generative AI will play in both their business and in their employees’ careers, to offering upskilling programs for workers and being inclusive in pilot programs to ensure a diverse group of leaders and participants.

The organization also said women can make sure they are being proactive in how they manage their careers, including finding their own upskilling opportunities and volunteering for generative AI initiatives.

The World Economic Forum wrote that “companies hold the power to reverse this trend. By providing more upskilling, creating a shared vision with workers, broadening IT teams and inviting leaders of business units and Generation Z ‘superusers’ to the discussion, leaders can encourage more women to embrace generative AI.”