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What can be done to solve the glaring AI gender gap?

Tue 18 Dec 2018

New report from World Economic Forum (WEF) warns of “glaring” gender gap among AI professionals

AI might be the single biggest technological disruptor of the 21st century, but one thing it is not disrupting is the long-chronicled STEM gender gap, according to a new report published by WEF.

As part of its Global Gender Gap Report, WEF collaborated with LinkedIn to focus on the present gender distribution in AI. The report found a worrying gender gap developing between AI professionals, with women only representing 22 percent of the AI workforce.

This accounts for a gender gap of 72 percent, one three times larger than other industry talent pools and one which has remained constant in recent years, suggesting more of the same as AI continues to permeate every inch of society.

Share of professionals with AI skills by gender and geography

Unless addressed, the gap may exacerbate gender gaps in economic participation and opportunity in the future, as the technology encompasses an increasingly in-demand skill set.

The findings also confirm concerns that AI research is being conducted without diverse talent, limiting researchers’ ability to properly reflect the needs and wants of society as a whole – potentially leading to bias algorithms that discriminate against whole sections of society.

Artificial intelligence’s very real gender crisis

The AI industry also seems to mirror the turgid gender mobility found in the corporate world. In addition to being outnumbered three to one, women in AI are less likely to be positioned in senior roles or signal expertise in high-profile, emerging AI skills.

Using data from LinkedIn – the favoured platform for B2B technologists – WEF researchers found that AI-skilled women are more likely to be employed as data analysts, researchers, information managers and teachers. Men with similar skills? The considerably more lucrative and senior titles of software engineers, heads of engineering, heads of IT and chief executives.

Work clearly needs to be done to address the lack of gender diversity and opportunity in the AI industry. WEF is urgently calling for proactive measures to prevent a deepening of the gender divide in other industries on the hunt for AI talent.

This not only includes traditionally male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, hardware, networking, software and IT services, but traditionally female sectors such as non-profits, health care and education.

Saadia Zahidi, head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society and member of the managing board at World Economic Forum, said industries must ‘proactively hardwire gender parity in the future through effective training, reskilling, and upskilling interventions and tangible job transition pathways’.

LinkedIn Co-Founder Allen Blue said he hopes the report will help policymakers, employers and educational institutions.

“Shedding light on the persistent gender gaps in fast-growing fields like AI is a critical first step in creating policies and practices that can close those gaps and create new pathways to economic opportunity,” he said.


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