The biggest digital disruption affecting employers is the AI skills shortage. IBM predicts there will be 364,000 open jobs for data and analytics professionals by 2020 in the US, with an ever- increasing demand for data scientists. The widening skills gap and rapid pace of technological advancement has led to a growing interest in using artificial intelligence to drive digital business prospects. Yet, many businesses face the challenge of finding people with the right AI skills to handle these projects.
With AI skills in increasing demand and short supply, there are more opportunities than ever before for women to step into senior roles in data science, a significantly male-dominated sector. But, as Google’s latest diversity figures show, cultural shifts take time.
Statistics expose lack of gender diversity in the tech sector:
Nearly 70% of Google employees are men, a figure unchanged since 2014.
31.2% of staff hired in the US last year were women, but less than a quarter of tech recruits were female.
More encouragingly, just over 1 in 4 of Google’s leaders are now women, an increase of 5% since 2014.
In comparison, just 19% of Microsoft’s employees in either leadership or tech roles are female, while less than a third of f Facebook’s leadership posts are held by women.
The tech sector is still slow to move towards gender parity. Last year, Google fired one of its employees for writing a memo arguing that biological differences were preventing women from securing the top jobs over men.
AI projects breaking new ground
In the meantime, women are already pushing the boundaries to shape the future of AI. For example:
The Partnership on AI, which aims to ‘advance public understanding of AI technologies and formulate best practices on the challenges and opportunities within the field’ hired Terah Lyon as its Executive Director. Lyon is the former Policy Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). More recently, just this month the organization hired Julia Rhodes-Davis as its inaugural Director of Partnerships.
The AI Now Institute, which carries out research into the social implications of AI at New York University, was founded by two female tech researchers including Kate Crawford, of Microsoft Research, and Meredith Whittaker, founder of Google Open Research.
Tess Possner heads up AI4All, a non-profit which aims to encourage diversity and inclusion in the sector.
The future of AI belongs to women.
Writing in Forbes, Kate Levchuk argues that the world will become less biased as analytics and machine learning advance, leading to three qualities which will become critical in the age of AI:
These three traits, she suggests, mean that women will be better equipped to benefit from automation and AI due to their inherent empathy and natural collaborative skills.
Overcoming barriers to entry
Attracting women into the field of AI still presents obstacles, and overcoming them requires a paradigm shift. Research suggests that few women are earning degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and women make up less than one-quarter of employees in STEM occupations.
In the face of a global skills shortage, employers can address these issues by:
Creating a culture of equality. Women are leaving tech jobs due to a number of factors, which include ineffective feedback and isolation in sometimes hostile male-dominated working environments.
Promoting positive female role models and career paths. If you’re in search of inspiration, take a look at some of the top female tech entrepreneurs.
Reducing unconscious bias in the hiring process and looking beyond traditional talent pools. AI can adopt algorithmic biases based on the values of the people who have created the system, whether intentional or not. If we are programming computers to think like humans it’s critical they don’t develop the bias of those who programmed them.
Liaising with organizations such as Women In AI which provide workshops to help companies to integrate more females in their AI team and educational programs with more focus on females at an earlier age by partnering with schools.
The untapped world of AI offers huge potential for women as they continue to edge to the forefront of a male-dominated sector.
When it comes to AI, the future is theirs to take.
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