How to bridge the AI gender gap

Artificial intelligence working with humans

Despite ongoing conversations on the need for greater gender diversity in artificial intelligence (AI) industry, women are still vastly underrepresented. The World Economic Forum recently found that only 26% of those working in data and AI globally are female, with even fewer holding senior roles.

It’s clear that if the AI industry is going to deliver on its promise to revolutionise all of our lives, there’s a vital need to ensure more women are involved in its development.

As with most things, the first step to overcoming the gender gap in AI is to attract more women into the industry. That’s why we spoke to members of Amelia’s Women in AI community to discuss their experiences and suggest ways we can bridge the gender divide.

Mentoring matters

Throughout her career working in AI, Ekaterina Stoianova, Cognitive Project Lead at Amelia, an IPsoft Company, found that strong mentors were key to her success. “I believe that women need a strong professional mentor network to support them and help overcome gender stereotypes.”

Indeed, research has found that 48% of women in tech felt that the absence of female mentors was one of their biggest barriers. Ekaterina explains that an unbiased mentor can be a great sounding board and help to bring new perspectives. “Sometimes the actions they proposed were not obvious but, in hindsight, proved to be valuable.”

Play to your strengths

Ozge Tarim, Senior Business Account Manager at Global DWS, is also concerned that declining rates of women entering STEM courses in university are causing some women to feel that they don’t have a good enough technical understanding of AI.

“The biggest challenges I faced were thinking that a lack of technical qualifications meant that I didn’t deserve to be involved in the discussion,” she says.

One of the ways she overcame this was by realising that technical knowledge was just “one aspect and not enough for success in itself. You need a whole spectrum of strengths. Diversity drives innovation.”

Begin with the board

The discrepancies between the population and its representation in the C-suite are enormous and create core problems in these sectors,” notes Priscilla Lotman, Founder & Director at AVA2 Digital Asset Management. Aside from introducing new ideas and perspectives, addressing gender imbalance on boards can sends a powerful message to other women within those organisations, demonstrating that it is calling time on the ‘glass ceiling’.

Strong gender balance on boards also enhances an organisation’s standing as an inclusive employer and demonstrate strong positive company values.

Bust AI myths

Andrée Bates, Founder of Eularis & AI-cademy, also believes that it’s important to clear up misconceptions of AI before women understand it’s an industry in which they can thrive.

One example of a common misconception is that you need to have a deep understanding of complex mathematics to work in AI. “This is not true,” Andrée comments. “You just need to know what you can do with the technology.” While we need to keep up technical knowledge, other characteristics, such as our ability to think creatively and critically, are also crucial.

Another myth Andrée hopes to clear up is that you must have a large pool of data scientists to execute a successful AI implementation. “In the last five years, we’ve seen an exponential increase of smaller AI-as-a-service companies with no need for large teams to get you started,” she explains.

Women should take advantage of the increasing democratisation of AI tools to gain experience and start understanding its potential.

Priscilla, meanwhile, highlighted how accessible this can be even in small companies, as ‘many tools actually have a free or low-cost version so now even a one-person businesses can leverage the power of AI’.

Remember emotional intelligence

“One of the best pieces of guidance my AI coach gave me was, ‘As more and more artificial intelligence enters into the world, more and more emotional intelligence must enter into leadership,” says Kerry Sheehan, Artificial Intelligence in PR Chair at CIPR. 

While AI may be able to solve complex business problems, emotional intelligence will soon become a highly sought-after skill. Even though some AI providers have made great strides in incorporating emotional intelligence, tone recognition and context switching into their technology, human beings still easily outperform machines on this score. As these skills become a greater focus in the development of AI, women looking to break into the space can focus on human-orientated skills like empathy, social intelligence, and persuasion to gain an edge.

Time for change

Make no mistake, the gender gap in AI will not be closed overnight. Media attention and governmental initiatives can help, but industry engagement will be key in helping to change outdated perceptions. Programs like Amelia’s Women in AI can help give women the community support they need to thrive within the AI landscape, but we can all do more. It’s only when we can address this imbalance that we can create an AI industry that is fair, creative and innovative.