To celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March, a diverse range of women across the AI sphere tell us what it’s like as a woman in the AI industry and provide practical tips for those looking to break-in
There is no denying the gender gap in AI. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report shows just 26% of professionals in Data and AI are women. One of the major challenges is encouraging interest amongst girls who view it as a “male-only” career path. To change this perception and attract more women into the industry, we need more female voices sharing their experiences in the AI industry, highlighting the opportunities and the benefits of working in technology. After all, the AI industry can be both highly lucrative personally and incredibly rewarding professionally, with a chance to add real value to society.
Women are transforming the AI industry, pioneering to improve experiences for the next generation, and leading in the development of new technologies.women in ai This includes for example changing the game in STEM education and founding one of the first companies to introduce Live Chat customer service in Latin America. But what learnings would women in AI pass onto the next generation on this International Women’s Day? We asked the industry change-makers from Amelia’s Women in AI program to share their thoughts:
Fix the STEM gap to reduce bias in development
Andrea Mandelbaum, President and CEO of Mc-Luhan, is concerned about the widespread gender disparity within STEM. “With women representing a percentage of only 20-25% of the sector, technological developments will be skewed,” she says. Andrea explains that boosting “gender diversity promotes the enriching exchange of visions and points of view to ensure objectivity when designing and implementing AI solutions in terms of understanding, interaction, empathy, generation of models and results.”
The battle for diversity starts in education
In France, as in many countries, there are few women in the digital professions (only 33%). Virginie Mathivet, Chief R&D Officer at TeamWork, says she has felt this acutely during her career, and knowing that there is a severe resource strain in data and AI only intensifies the need to do more to encourage women into these fields. Not only are we missing out on 50% of untapped potential, but we’re also doing so against a backdrop of rising unemployment in non-digital sectors and a major skills gap in STEM. Virgine believes that “we must act [by improving education] at secondary school.” Not purely through teaching, but also in setting up “discovery workshops” for young girls to speak to female experts and discover the variety of roles available.
The importance of having more diverse industry role models continues throughout education. As an African-American female leader of Des Moines University, Dr. Angela L. Walker Franklin struggled to find mentors who had the same lived experience as herself, “despite many years of talk of diversifying leadership in higher education.” Less than one-third of US college presidents were women in 2016, and the number is not dissimilar in the UK. Nevertheless, she feels positive about the future. By increasing the number of female leaders in higher education, we can encourage and inspire more girls to pursue STEM subjects, not only boosting gender diversity in tech, but also in fields like engineering and life sciences, she says.
Defying gender roles and expectations is key to career success
Of course, it’s not just about getting women into the AI industry. Being a woman in a heavily male-dominated industry presents challenges, particularly when it comes to parenting. Liliana Mantilla who works as a Cognitive Delivery Manager at Amelia, an IPsoft Company, describes previous roles in which she felt she “had to work twice as hard as fellow male colleagues.” She also felt more afflicted by the guilt of a working mother, “due to a society that assigns the tasks of caring for children to women.” Thanks to a supportive husband, she has been able to divide up the load of housework and childcare, which has been fundamental to her professional development. As she says, there will be no real societal change unless “men also get involved in the fight” for gender equality.
You are not alone: Make connections with like-minded individuals
Communities, like Amelia’s Women in AI, have played a vital role for Gaby K. Slezák, Partner & Head of XR at Evenness. She highlights the importance of diversity in areas like AI and XR to ensure her “daughter’s generation does not suffer from biased automated hiring processes, non-inclusive virtual work environments and a lack of female role-models for leadership.” She cites the importance of building networks of women in “fostering a culture of respect and belonging,” in which innovative ideas can thrive.
Improve diversity and close the skills gap for good
According to WEF’s Future of Jobs 2020 report, the pace of technology adoption is expected to continue unabated, with a significant rise in interest in robotics and AI. And whilst this presents a major challenge for reskilling and upskilling our existing workforce, it presents a huge opportunity for the next generation. As Virginie Mathivet nicely puts it, “if each woman in AI convinced one young woman to come into this field,” we would quickly and easily achieve gender parity. So it’s clear that the enduring challenge on this International Women’s Day is to inspire, educate and support the next generation of STEM leaders, and drive the closing of the AI gender gap.