Only 22% of AI professionals in the UK are female, causing “persistent, structural inequality” in the field. So where are all the women?
Artificial Intelligence will reshape every corner of our lives over the coming years. The AI sector in the UK alone was worth over £15 billion in 2020 – and it’s set to grow the UK economy 10% by 2023. The future is looking bright for artificial intelligence, apart from one not so minor issue – where are all the women?
Research by the Alan Turing Institute shows that only around a fifth (22%) of data and AI professionals in the UK are women, which drops right down to a mere 8% of researchers who contribute to the pre-eminent machine learning conferences.
Even though 45% of UK artificial intelligence startups have at least one female co-founder, the overall figures for gender diversity in AI are not up to scratch.
Should we be surprised?
The vast majority (78%) of AI professionals are male, meaning AI is a male dominated area. But a lack of female professionals in science is nothing new. WISE Campaign, which is a UK leader for gender diversity in STEM reports that women make up only 24% of the core STEM sector (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Only 8% of women progress to a level 4+ STEM qualification (essentially a certificate of higher education).
In a (2021) WISE report exploring pathways into tech careers, women are shown as significantly under-represented in such roles, and represent just 18% of the workforce. The report states:
“That women are still under-recruited, under-retained and under-promoted, makes little sense when one considers the wider skills gap in tech.
“The Institute of Coding (IoC) estimated that this was 500,000+ in 2016, with more recent estimates suggesting a need for 1.5 million additional people with advanced skills over the next two years6 .
“The UK’s 26-28,000 computer science graduates a year are a drop in the ocean against this background.
“The industry needs new talent and quickly.
Addressing the gender job gap
Ensuring that technology works for all of society starts with a fair and deliberate diversity and inclusion. Cheryl Duva, Healthcare Analytics expert at PA Consulting, told Health Tech World that organisations must begin to attract more female talent.
She added: “My experience shows me that women by nature want to be more than just data scientists and analysts, they want to be at the heartbeat of the business / programme, working with a common purpose to create true impact on healthcare at large.
“My advice for women looking for a career in AI is to look for organisations and teams that work in partnership with their business counterparts, so that collaborative solutions can be built with meaningful impact, and so as a team member, and woman, you feel empowered by delivering solutions with a purpose.”
Cheryl grew an analytics team from 10 to over 60, by actively working to create a more diverse workforce. “I was able to hire the best people”, she added. “because the human impact and potential that the advanced analytics solutions delivered was so entrenched into everything we did.”
Irina Shymko, Business Development Director at Datuum AI commented:
“The number of AI products in the Ukraine has grown significantly over the last 5 years. And the number of AI specialists has been growing rapidly as well, and despite this female share in this area is still small.
“In creating an AI-driven platform we have a constant need for data specialists with AI backgrounds and skills. In our totally Ukrainian team, we have only one woman in a team of five data scientists with an AI background today.
Irina pointed out that the number of women in tech is expected to grow in the coming years. She added: “Women’s share in technical roles has grown by 11.7% in the overall global tech workforce from 2019 to 2022. So the proportion of women in the AI tech field should also grow proportionately and we will have more female AI researchers and tech specialists.”
Gender diversity crucial for AI development
Lucille Valentine, Head of regulation and compliance at gliff.ai, told Health Tech World that diversity is crucial for the development of AI.
She added: “All aspects of AI usage in real life settings, such as in healthcare, need to be ethical and trustworthy for all. To achieve fairness for a wide range of AI users it is absolutely beneficial to have diversity, in every aspect including gender, in the software development team.”
Vivienne Winborne, of Alphalake AI, added that there is a “multitude of issues” stemming from the figures.
She said: “Firstly, we must consider the inherent challenges around the gender pay gap and imbalance in senior representatives at a leadership and board level. But even more crucially, AI algorithms have already been shown to reflect and amplify pre-existing biases.
“So when Amazon incorporated AI into its recruitment process, the algorithm ranked males higher for technical positions than females not based on their knowledge or experience but due to a pre-existing pattern of male dominance in these roles.”
She continued: “Then in healthcare, we know that heart attacks are routinely misdiagnosed in women because their symptoms present differently. We can’t avoid perpetuating these inequities without a broader representation of minority groups.”
Advice for women heading for AI and tech careers
Olga Isupova is a Lecturer in AI at University of Bath, offered her advice for women and girls heading for a career in AI or tech. She said: “I believe we ought to work in both directions: make the industry more welcoming and safe for women, and make girls believe they can do this too if they choose to.
“I would encourage women heading for a career in science and tech not to be afraid of it, believe in yourself and never listen to anyone who would suggest you can’t do it only because of their gender.
“Though limited, we have enough evidence that women can do it and can do it well.
“Know that the field is full of people without this nonsense in their heads, who would treat you by your professional achievements and not your gender, and if you come across individuals that are different, you do not have to deal with them, find normal people to work with instead, there are plenty of those.”
You can see a wide range of job opportunities for women in AI on the Jooble platform