World Economic Forum report finds gender gap in AI

The repercussions of having fewer female AI professionals

The World Economic Forum (WEF) released its Global Gender Gap Report this week and the results are worrying. In collaboration with LinkedIn, the WEF found that just 22% of AI professionals worldwide are female, a gender gap which has been constant over the last few years and doesn’t look set to change in the imminent future. Moreover, proportionally fewer women than men are joining the workforce, in part because the automation of certain jobs has impacted traditionally female-dominated roles.

The increasing importance of AI in the workplace means that if women don’t increase their AI presence, they risk being left behind. Moreover, we have already seen the biased algorithms that result when the data is programmed exclusively by men. If women aren’t incorporated into the AI learning process, algorithms will surely exhibit more and more bias as the years go by. Put succinctly by the WEF report, “In an era when human skills are increasingly important and complementary to technology, the world cannot afford to deprive itself of women’s talent in sectors in which talent is already scarce.”

Worldwide AI skillsets exhibit gender gap

Despite an overall increase in the number of people on LinkedIn who list AI skills, the gender gap in this field has remained constant. The AI gender gap is greatest in Software and IT services, where women make up just one-fifth of the AI task force. Unfortunately, this also happens to be the biggest AI industry, meaning that women are missing out on the meatiest AI opportunities. While the AI gender gap reflects the gender gap in the workforce overall, the former is consistently more severe and sometimes even threefold higher than in the general workforce.

Based on analysis of their LinkedIn profiles, the WEF found that men were generally more likely to hold senior roles. They also appeared to be more likely to have expertise in emerging, high-profile AI skills. While women were more likely to have information retrieval, natural language processing and data structures skills, men were more likely to be skilled in deep learning, neural networks and computer vision. Both genders exhibited a high percentage of people with machine learning skills. This means men are better established to hold more senior positions such as head of IT or CEO, a theory which is confirmed by the data.

STEM education is the way forward for increasing female presence in AI

The AI gender gap in the workforce reflects gender gaps in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) specializations as well as gender gaps in the acquisition of emerging skills. The WEF recommends reskilling interventions and the facilitation of job transition pathways as methods to reduce the gender gap.

If we continue along this trajectory, the AI gender gap is set to increase, leading to a reduced presence of women in manufacturing, networking, IT and other traditionally male-dominated industries, and an overrepresentation of women in traditionally female-dominated industries like non-profits, healthcare and education.

There’s hope for women in AI

The news isn’t all bad. Female-focused initiatives like Barcelona’s AllWomen AI campus and inspiring role models like Fei Fei Li inspire girls every day to break into the male-dominated STEM industries. If government policies and funding jump on board, there’s no reason we should have to wait a century to see gender parity. Incorporating women into the AI programming process can only open up new doors to more creative uses of AI.