Artificial intelligence (AI) stands as one of the most remarkable technological advancements of our era, offering solutions to complex problems such as predicting droughts, preventing fraud, and enhancing disaster relief efforts. It has been instrumental in revolutionizing healthcare, climate change mitigation, and numerous other fields.
Women are at the forefront of this transformative industry, making significant strides in harnessing AI for the greater good. However, a glaring gender gap persists within AI, hindering its full potential.
Disparities in the tech landscape
Ever since the big hype around AI happened, it seems that mass media was mostly concerned about the automation process and how AI will replace workers. A few months later, we finally have evidence that proves that more women hold jobs that are more exposed to automation.
This disparity arises primarily because women tend to occupy more white-collar positions, whereas men have a more even distribution between white- and blue-collar jobs. Some of the occupations that are most exposed to AI automation and have predominantly female employees include office and administrative support, healthcare practitioners and technical roles, education and library occupations, healthcare support, and community and social services.
Namely, what’s particularly concerning is that research indicates women may be disproportionately affected by the widespread adoption of generative AI. A recent analysis from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School reveals that a staggering 79% of working women—nearly 59 million individuals—are in jobs susceptible to disruption and automation. In contrast, 58% of working men fall into this category.
In 2020, the World Economic Forum unveiled a concerning statistic: women occupy a mere 26% of data and AI positions in the workforce. Moreover, women are a staggering 13 times less likely to file for technology patents than their male counterparts.
These disparities echo throughout the tech landscape, with the OECD estimating that women secure only 7% of ICT patents in G20 nations and found only 10% of technology startups seeking venture capital.
To address this gender gap, OECD recommends fostering an environment where women not only enter but thrive in AI. In a world where STEM fields traditionally drew fewer women, it's crucial to invest in a culture of diversity and inclusion within tech companies.
Studies, such as one by the Boston Consulting Group, reveal that companies with diverse teams are more innovative and generate higher revenues from innovation. Likewise, the presence of women on corporate boards positively correlates with higher returns on investment and growth, according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute.
OECD recommendations for addressing the gender gap in tech
The gender disparity extends to the world of startups, where women founders face significant obstacles.
Namely, 2022 report by the OECD, UNESCO, and IADB revealed that women held just 18% of C-suite positions in leading global AI startups in 2019. To rectify this, supporting female-founded startups with AI and machine learning technologies is vital, reports OECD. Empowering these startups to build their technical skills, secure funding, and expand their markets can expedite progress toward a more diverse AI ecosystem.
AI’s influence extends far beyond the tech industry — it has the power to reshape economies and societies. However, the development and deployment of AI have largely excluded women’s voices and perspectives.
This exclusion results in products and solutions that may not adequately address the needs and concerns of women. An illustration of this issue is evident in AI-generated content — both ChatGPT and Midjourney, for example, are more inclined to generate male representations when queried about tech founders or CEOs.
That’s why, public discourse and collaboration among industry leaders, policymakers, the AI research community, and startups are pivotal. OECD advises that governments incentivize female entrepreneurship and engagement in all stages of AI development. Policies should actively promote gender equality in academia, the private sector, and civil society.
Why is this important?
It is essential to recognize that AI can be both a disruptor and an enabler. While it may replace certain jobs, it can also create new opportunities and enhance productivity in existing roles. As we navigate the integration of AI into the workforce, it is crucial to address concerns related to bias, ethics, and responsible use.
Diversity and inclusion encompass more than just gender equity; they encompass age, nationality, sexual orientation, culture, education, physical and psychological abilities, neurodiversity, religion, and life experience.
In conclusion, closing the gender gap in AI is a multifaceted challenge that requires concerted efforts from all sectors of society. “By investing in inclusive cultures, promoting STEM education, empowering startups led by women, and encouraging public discourse, we can pave the way for a more equitable and innovative AI ecosystem,” stated Tanuja Randery, Managing Director at AWS EMEA.