The fields of Tech, Engineering, and Computer Science have always been dominated by men. To hear numbers about the scarcity of women in these fields should not come as a surprise. Thankfully, the tide is turning and a commitment to diversity and inclusion is now seen as a strength of an institution or company.
A healthy-operating digital economy requires a balanced mix of insights, reflections, and visions, with both women and men equally involved in decision-making. Although the digital tech economy is rapidly growing, with hundreds of thousands of new jobs created every year, the share of women in this sector continues to be minimally represented and is even decreasing in some countries. According to a study launched by the EU Commission in 2016, only 24 out of every 1000 female graduates had an ICT related subject in her portfolio. When it comes to employment, only 6 of those girls and women finally found a job in the digital sector. If more women were to enter the digital jobs market, the European economy could have an annual EUR 16 billion GDP boost not to mention that benefits this would have for establishing gender balanced participation in a digital society. But to realize this, we need to find a way to attract and maintain female talent and that starts at a young age. We need to give young girls the confidence to pursue opportunities in the science and tech space.
Zooming in on Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Robotics, we see an even greater gender-imbalance, whether it is in the corporate, start-up or academic world. Element AI, a startup from Montreal, conducted research to estimate the diversity of leading machine learning researchers, and found that only 12 percent were women.
The hype surrounding AI and the corporate strategic agendas to facilitate this must focus on diversity and inclusion in order to overcome the gender gap. By supporting inclusion in the AI space, bringing all minds together, we have the chance to shape a future of AI in a human-centric manner, paying tribute to the many ‘humans’ who will be impacted by this technology. The AI Ethics Guidelines of our High-Level Expert Group on AI address the need for diversity at multiple instances, and aim to steer and encourage the process of inclusion.
From the #BalanceforBetter to the European Engine of Invention
International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8 with this year’s theme being #BalanceforBetter (#IWD2019). This day is a global occasion that brings into the spotlight the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year I had the chance to moderate an event organised by Women in AI (WAI), a fast-growing global platform on a mission to empower and celebrate women in the AI sector and to create a gender-inclusive AI Community.
In a discussion on “The Underestimated Power of a Woman in AI" the female panelists shared stories of themselves, amazing women who are all leading practitioners in the field. Among the role-models featured on the panel were female startup owners from the Netherlands and abroad, such as Fadoa Schrurer, Co-founder and CCO Embot.ai, Christina Calje, CEO & Co-founder of Autheos, Diana Xhumari, Founder and CEO Tegeria, Una Verhoeven, Co-founder, managing partner, and CTO AmpleEdge and Wendy Geeraert, Co-founder and CEO Co-libry and Enginity.
Bringing empowerment, knowledge and active collaboration via education, research, events, and blogging, the WAI community counts now over 1200 members from 60 countries. Such a global community has the power to embrace diversity and form an inclusive environment of reflection. This why it is important for all interested parties to join this network. Other programs like UNESCO’s and L’Oreal’s “For Women in Science” support and recognize accomplished women researchers. Their efforts are incredible best practices for a variety of reasons: for encouraging more young women to enter the sciences, to assist women once their careers are in progress, and to pay tribute to the incredible work being done by women in this space.
The European Commission is also actively promoting the larger participation of women in the digital sector by challenging stereotypes, promoting digital skills and education, and advocating for more women entrepreneurs. Some interesting actions taken to achieve this are:
- The Declaration on Gender-Balanced Company Culture encouraging companies to adopt a hands-on approach to close the digital gender divide in skills, inception of technologies, and access and career opportunities;
- The European Network for Women in Digital aiming to consolidate the efforts of existing initiatives and facilitate partnerships between organisations and businesses;
- The No Women no Panel initiative, aiming to bring awareness on gender balance in panels;
- The Women in Digital Scoreboard aiming to monitor women's participation in the digital economy, on the occasion of the birthday of Ada Lovelace, considered as the world's first computer programmer; and
- The Digital Skills Awards that include a special prize to promote digital skills for women and girls.
Sharing successful stories of women in AI & Tech is the first step towards promoting gender-inclusiveness in the AI space and beyond. On this important day, I invite everyone studying and working in science and tech to reflect on what their institution or company is doing to attract and sustain female talent. And if the answer is “I don’t know”, or “not that much” then I invite you to consider digging deeper to learn what your institution can do to drive change in this space. Together we can create a more inclusive and diverse research and development space for the benefit of both current and future generations.
- Digital Entrepreneurship women society AImadeinEU AI Artificial Intelligence digitaltransformation employment skills education talent training
In reply to Hi Aimee, by Maikel Groenewoud