Call for greater diversity in tech to tackle AI gender gap

DataIQ News

Companies are being urged to step up the recruitment of women in artificial intelligence roles after a new report revealed that females make up just 22% of all professionals working in the sector.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 - which studies gender parity in the four key areas of health, education, economy and politics - reveals that the AI gender gap is three times larger than in other industries, with women in AI also less likely to hold senior roles.

SAS UK & Ireland head of IoT Jennifer Major believes the figures are indicative of a wider problem with equal representation in tech. She said: "Women and other groups are under-represented across the board. That has to change and it makes business sense that it does. As AI moves ever further into the mainstream, the industry must take steps to ensure that it is truly for all – not just a privileged few. As wide a range of viewpoints as possible must be fed into the development of AI. Only then can it fulfil its potential as a force for good."

Major argues that this is not about "political correctness", but about making decisions that make business sense. "The contribution that these groups can make to AI is enormous and their skills will often complement those of the existing workforce. That any are prevented or deterred from working in this field is a huge waste of potential."

O’Reilly Media chief data scientist Ben Lorica agrees. He said: “Given that we know AI and automation technologies are continuing to grow, it’s important that the people who build them reflect the broader population.

“Currently, many AI products and applications are not fully autonomous and still involve humans. This means it is vital that developers are aware of the issues that are relevant to the diverse set of users we can expect to interact with these systems. If we want to create AI technologies that work for everyone – they need to be representative of all races and gender.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the AI gender gap is greater in some specific industries, with females making up just 13.3% of AI workers in the entertainment industry, and 18.5% in the manufacturing sector.

However, females did fare slightly better in education (33.1%), healthcare (34.6%) and media (31.3%) with above average representation. Finance (24.6%), corporate services (28.6%) and consumer goods (23.5%) were also slightly above the average.

Lorica added: “We need to raise awareness of the need to recruit more women into the AI sector. In doing so, the community can begin to mobilise and share strategies. While the level of awareness is high among academic and industrial researchers, we still have a long way to go.

“As we are entering the implementation phase for AI technologies, more training and education platforms are becoming available in the sector. These new training platforms are vital if we are to begin to narrow the gender gap over the next year. The talent pool is only set to grow, yet – the challenge remains to ensure it becomes even more diverse.”