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March 8, 2024

Empowering Women in AI and Breaking Barriers

For manifold reasons, women take time out of work for a stretch of time. And for those looking to re-enter the workforce - especially roles in tech - it's a bit like having to leap onto a fast-moving train. But as women seek out opportunities, AI is looking for them.

As UNESCO reports in their “The Effects of AI on the Working Lives of Women” publication, we need to overcome a whole bunch of sticking points for the future to work for 49.58% of the world population. Yet women still only account for 26% of data and AI positions in the workforce right now. If groups of people start to feel sidelined and they don’t feel they have a stake in the future, that’s a firm path to disenfranchisement. 

Women can play a huge part in levelling the playing field by targeting opportunities in AI - but really, how easy is it to crack into? What can you bring to the table as a woman and more importantly, what can AI and wider tech businesses do to offer a more supportive environment for women returning to work?

Why We Need Women in AI: The Very Real Challenge of Eliminating Gender Bias

Caroline Criado Perez’ Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men exploded onto the world stage in 2019 to highlight the adverse effects on women caused by gender bias in big data collection. 

AI’s are trained on data selected, tested and evaluated by humans. If diversity is lacking in the teams managing that training, it’s all too easy for unconscious biases to slip into machine learning models unnoticed - and AI systems will consolidate this bias to take effect in the real world. So one of the first positive steps in eliminating bias is to create a more diverse and inclusive team to work on those all important data feeds.

What Women Bring to the Table

Diverse perspectives are needed for innovative solutions to any challenge. Women can be incredibly valuable in advancing the progress of AI which presents relentless challenges. They offer a different way of thinking and possess widely recognised natural strengths. Stanford Medicine breaks down the following cognitive functions in which women excel:

  • A natural talent for creative problem-solving
  • Good communicators and collaborators - AI requires teamwork and cooperation. Complex concepts need to be shared with diverse stakeholders
  • Detail-oriented - precision and accuracy in data analysis is paramount
  • Natural empathy - particularly powerful in designing AI systems that are fair and valuable to society
  • Resilience and perseverance - AI requires patience to create models and systems that are honed through a trial and error process
  • Emotional intelligence - AI will be able to read emotions by “analysing data, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice etc to determine a person's emotional state and react accordingly. Emotional AI will be used to increase productivity in medical workplaces, like assisting nurses and doctors in providing services.”

How Can We Engage More Women?

Everything stems from education, and in this case it originates in STEM learning (science, tech, engineering and maths). Interest in this needs to be nurtured to cultivate curiosity and talent in females of all ages. But it doesn’t stop there - women need to be recognised for their strengths by businesses in the sector.

There are really proactive global networks that support women in STEM fields: Girls Who Code - an international nonprofit organisation supporting women in tech, Black Girl Gamers - an inclusive online gaming community of over 8000 black women that share a passion for gaming, and Women in AI - a nonprofit ‘do-tank’ working towards inclusive AI that benefits global society with over 8000 members in 140 countries. They all champion women’s space in this space.

The Business Case for More Diversity

Harvard Business Review predicts that equal representation could raise global GDP by 3 to 6% - that’s up to a USD 5-trillion dollar injection into the global economy.

Relevant, dynamic and ambitious businesses want to play a proactive part in closing the gender gap in the AI industry. And they know one sure-fire way to do this is by making themselves attractive to a more diverse and inclusive workforce. 

Women need to see opportunities are there for them to grow into leadership positions. If they look at the senior landscape and don’t see space for them to grow, they’ll move on. It’s the same for investors - women will be looking at their portfolios to see if they’re represented the founding teams. 

Tech needs to represent consumers, with products and services designed by diverse teams. Women need an equal platform to ensure their ideas will be heard and go onto shape better products and services and effectively contribute growth. 

How Can Businesses Support Women Entering the AI Sector?

Returner programmes are worth their weight in gold to help those in the wake of a career break effectively re-enter work. Training and reskilling give new talent the knowledge and power to gen-up and work with confidence.

A supportive work environment goes a long way in helping women succeed and become even more valuable to a business. Flexible working arrangements, mentoring and professional development opportunities have a hugely positive impact. Women sure do want to lean in, so channel your natural intelligence and acumen into artificial intelligence.

“Anything World is a proud supporter of women and non-males in tech, and we’re committed to achieving a 50:50 male:non-male split in our team. Currently we’re circa 65:35 but it’s something we’re always working on! We do have a strong female representation in our senior management at 50:50. We believe a representative workplace is a better workplace and we do everything we can to empower and include everyone!” Gordon Midwood, CEO

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