Vital for hi-tech areas such as AI to recruit more women

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

Last week the world celebrated International Women’s Day 2019, taking 'balance' as its main theme for this year.

Levelling out the balance in the workplace is one of the main areas they are pushing for change, especially in traditionally male dominated verticals such as science, technology and engineering.

So we spoke to Sophie Eom, Co-Founder & CEO of Adriel, a digital marketing service that utilises advance AI and machine learning to help small businesses advertise online.

She's also on the United Nation’s Panel for digital Co-operation, which ams to bolster the number of women seeking careers in fields such as Artificial Intelligence.

We started by asking her if AI was proving a popular draw for women as a career option?

Eom: AI needs women to bring balance to new technology

There are not enough women going into AI or into the tech industry. The campaigns around International Women’s Day are illustrative of great progress we’ve made, but also of how far we need to go. 

The race to develop AI shows no signs of slowing down and it’s time for all industries to start learning about AI and embracing its advantages in an ethical way. 

Seeing more AI-empowered decision makers who are women is critical for an inclusive future that safeguards the use of AI for all. 

What are the major barriers to women working in technology areas such as AI?

There is a lack of encouragement for women to engage with science and technology starting in school. Recently, The Guardian newspaper published a study reporting that only 14 per cent of those working in STEM industries in the UK are women. 

Women are massively underrepresented in AI and there is a lack of female role models for the younger generation to look up to. 

Explanations have relied on the assumption that boys are better at spatial tasks, while girls are better at verbal recall. However, this is a tenuous link and shouldn’t be an inhibitor to getting more girls to engage with STEM subjects.

Balance in technology - women bring a different perspective

How important is diversity in hi-tech areas like AI?

Diversity is especially important for AI as it works in a similar way to how a baby learns. If the AI is only surrounded by one person’s point of view, its knowledge would be very limited and its uses equally so. 

At Adriel we understand that diversity adds different perspectives to the mix and allows the AI to progress. Businesses benefit from a more advanced, well-rounded AI technology so it’s highly important that diversity plays a role in this. 

Employees exposed to diversity and in charge of programming the AI will naturally enhance its capabilities. 

What insights can women bring to AI in digital marketing, which is your specialist area? 

Women from all backgrounds can help shape an AI and programme it to think from multiple perspectives. 

In marketing for example, men and women often approach briefs with different tactics. Having a member of the team who is able to get inside the head of a woman - and able to train the AI - is key to reaching the right audience.

Digital cooperation: UN initiative aims to understand consequences of new technology

You’re on the UN’s Panel for Digital Cooperation - what is it doing to develop AI paths for women?

My role on the panel is to help raise awareness about the impact of digital technologies across society and the economy, using Adriel as an example of how to ensure a safe and inclusive digital future for all. 

This is the first panel of its type and the first time the UN has come together to address the imbalance in access to technology. 

As one of 11 women on the panel spanning across the fields of education, e-commerce, government and policy, our aim is to identify the information gaps that exist and present concrete proposals to dissolve them. 

Which countries are leading the field in ensuring women can thrive in science and technology?

Often countries that start at the beginning by ensuring young women are not dissuaded but encouraged to follow their passions for science and technology in school are the ones who come out on top.
Research shows that countries like Denmark, where a greater gender balance is supported in the workforce and women are being recruited to enter the STEM professions in university, are seeing increased levels of equal opportunity in these fields.
However, for me, critically, it’s not just about countries that support women in science and technology, but those that ensure women have an equal role in society overall. 

How do you encourage women to seize the opportunity to get into hot technologies such as AI?

For me, it’s a step back from this. It all starts with ensuring young women are aware of the opportunities in these sectors and encouraged every step of the way. You can’t demand what you don’t know exists.

WEF is also addressing equality across the global industry spectrum

According to the World Economic Forum, as of 2018, only 22% of people working in AI are women. In order to help women realise the opportunities out there, we need to show increasing demand for women in these sectors, supported by role models who inspire them and provide a clear perception of what STEM careers look like in the real world. 

What initiatives do you know of that are highlighting opportunities in the tech space for women?

Women in AI (WAI) is a great example of an organisation that is bringing women together to build a gender-inclusive community that supports female representation and participation in AI. 
WEF’s new project to create a more gender-balanced workforce is also helping to form a more inclusive future for women in the areas of science, AI and software development.
The industry is not short of initiatives to achieve greater equality for women. However, it is a matter of those who are quickest to adopt change and look to set the precedent for others that will make a lasting impact. 

What else is being done to close the gender gap in AI? We noticed there’s a @women_in_ai Twitter feed?

Despite both men and women adding AI skills to their portfolios at a similar rate, there are still significantly less women than men in AI.
AI is in high demand and while the number of industries that continue to use AI and machine learning technology continues to grow there is a risk that the gender gap could widen.
That’s why organisations like Women in AI or Re-Work, the London-based AI events programme, are so important. They help build communities of women that connect one another to new opportunities and roles.

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