How to accelerate closing the gender gap in Data, Analytics and AI
This year we are seeing an ever-greater focus on Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace, with 2023 really pushing the agenda for Embracing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion overall.
What this really means is creating a gender equal world and workplace that is free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
By having a focus on increasing the presence and eminence of women in the field of AI specifically we can support driving this forward. However, we first need to understand what can be done to close gender gap in various areas (as well as increase our understanding of why), and create actionable programs to accomplish that.
In 2022 and prior to that, a lot of focus was rightly so on understanding the size of the gender gap, where the gaps are and why. The various areas that we have a lot of research and publications on are the following psychological or economic areas:
Gender gap/ Quotes in boards
Personal characteristics & promotion (differences in perception)
Career progression for women (differences in perception)
Job adds (differences in perception)
Gender gap/quotes in publications – and subsequent bias in solutions
Informa Tech’s leading media portal AI Business and global research team Omdia, joined forces with Women in AI to explore the gender gap further, developing an in-depth survey and business report on “Accelerating the closing of the gender gap in Data, Analytics and AI". The goal was to recap on where and why there is a gender gap in the data, analytics and AI, but also the strategies we can put in place to accelerate the closing of this gap.
This year, 57% of male and female survey respondents said that their organizations have or are making significant progress in achieving diversity and gender equity. 52% said that their organizations had corporate initiatives that advanced workforce diversity, and 69% acknowledged that diversity contributed to a more equitable and inclusive workplace, which 80% of both male and female workers want (1).
This is welcome news for women who want an equal opportunity to succeed with their AI careers, and it’s a credit to the individuals and organizations that have diligently advocated and worked to promote gender equity at work.
“Prior to 2022, the focus was on understanding how big the gender gap in AI was, where the gaps were, and why. Now, many in the AI industry understand that there is a gap,” said Debbie Botha, Chief Partnership Officer, Women in AI, and Co-Founder and Managing Director, Dalebrook Media Middle East. “Our goal now is to understand how we can accelerate the closing of that data, analytics and AI gender gap, and to identify pragmatic actions that can be taken based on the findings of our survey report and supporting research.”
What the 2023 survey tells us
73% of respondents reported that their organizations had more male than female employees. Of these, 39% believed that they will achieve 50:50 equity within five years and four percent have already achieved equal numbers of male and female employees.
When it came to career advancement and promotions, respondents felt that quality of work (79%), offering solutions to problems (60%) and good relationships among co-workers (41%) were most important. However, the 2023 survey also reports that 64% of male and female respondents still said they either agreed or strongly agreed that there were fewer senior roles for women in their companies. When respondents were probed as to why they felt women lagged behind men in obtaining promotions and career advancement, 52% said it would be easier for women to gain promotions if there was greater gender diversity at all levels of the organization. 41% felt that the presence of more mentors and role models for women would also improve women’s’ promotion potential.
The challenge for AI companies
63% of AI companies are encountering large skills shortages in the areas of AI and machine learning (2). One remedy for this AI talent shortfall is to hire more qualified women into the AI workforce—and to find ways to retain and promote these women once they are hired.
“We’ve made progress, but we still aren’t where we want to be,” said Aalya Dhawan, Director of Global Communication and Global Content for Women in AI. “Bias may sometimes emanate from both the top down and the company culture, so it’s not just about women helping women. We want men to support women as well. It’s a deeply ingrained social system that we must address now more than ever.”
Five practical steps for shrinking the AI gender gap
AI companies, advocates, individuals, organizations, and governments can take these steps to further gender equity in AI:
1. Actively engage with STEM programs
The AAUW (American Association of University Women) reports that, “Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college.”(3)
“How we are encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers is one of the most pressing concerns and challenges we must address,” said Dhawan. “We need to make STEM education more accessible to women and engage them in a significant manner.”
AI companies and advocates can help spearhead STEM programs by working with government groups and educational institutions to encourage and engage women in STEM programs early. They can provide guidance to teachers and schools in curriculum development, serve on school boards and committees, and work as mentors and role models for young girls and women as they pursue STEM studies.
2. Provide mentoring and internships
AI companies can provide student internships and mentoring to women that allow them as students to experience and gain confidence in real life work at the same time that they gain college credit. These internships benefit AI companies, because they have the ability to try out talent before they make a hire.
3. Revisit internal recruitment practices
Job search engines have reduced applicant pools for applicants described as
“Female,” and women AI recruits have been shoehorned into less technically oriented AI positions (4).
“Our HR tech tools are still very biased,” said Dhawan. “For the same position there are more men than women applying because in many cases, this accessibility problem discourages women from applying.”
Internal corporate recruiting practices are also problematic.
The survey also highlighted that only 18% of respondents said their companies were working on diversifying their recruiters and just 16% said that they were working on more recruitment policies for gender equity.
Correcting biases in automated HR job application funnel tools and focusing on diversifying HR recruiters and recruitment policies should be major focal points for companies striving for gender equity.
4. Revise company promotion practices
“Research shows that when going back in large companies’ performance appraisals, men are consistently rated higher than women for promotion potential. This is even if the women’s’ performance is rated higher than men in their current position, said Botha. “One of the reasons given is that the personal characteristics of men are perceived more leadership-related than the common leadership characteristics that women have.”
Assertiveness and outward confidence are two characteristics that motivate companies to promote men, yet team building, collaboration, the ability to negotiate, strong communications, empathy and flexibility are also relevant leadership traits—and areas where women excel.
AI companies would be well served to revisit promotional policies and to consider a dual-path promotional structure that rewards for both technical and management excellence. If companies have female candidates who bring value and talent to the technical side of the firm, a conscious effort should be made to eliminate bias that can cause these candidates to be overlooked.
“50% of women in the field of data, analytics and AI leave their career mid-career,” said Botha. “Women see the corporate ladder as a barrier or obstacle because they would like their work to talk for itself.”
5. Evaluate company culture
Men and women in AI can improve equity and inclusion by developing informal networking and support mechanisms that include everyone.
“We have seen in our work coaching women executives that they overwhelmingly struggle more than men to take advantage of informal networking situations,” said Brenda F. Wensil and Kathryn Heath in the Harvard Business Review (5) “Eighty-one percent of women say they feel this type of social exclusion in work situations.”
Promoting qualified women into leadership and mentoring roles can help level the playing field for internal mentoring, networking and support. It can lay the groundwork for a truly inclusive culture that welcomes everyone’s contribution, and inspire flexible life-work models (e.g., childcare, maternity leave) that assist women in continuing their careers by accommodating some of the unique responsibilities that women have.
“The most pivotal aspect to enable more women to enter and succeed in the AI field is to retain companies’ existing women talent, and to create career trajectories,” said Dhawan.
The official launch of the 2023 “Accelerating the closing of the gender gap in Data, Analytics and AI” report will be at The AI Summit London this 14-15 June, Tobacco Dock London. Make sure you join us there.