Artificial Intelligence is an ever-growing field of information technology. With the help of AI, technology that was once only a fabrication of science-fiction books is slowly being turned into a reality. Automated vehicles, voice-assistants, and humanoid robots, for example, are only a few out of the many varying innovations that have developed as a result of artificial intelligence. With the rise in AI-dependent applications, the number of AI related jobs is increasing rapidly, and the demand for quality and skill in this particular area is proportionately increasing. It is no wonder that a large number of the overall workforce, both at entry-level as well as at senior-level, are finding ways to jump on the AI bandwagon.
AI in a Nutshell
Historically, AI has oscillated between phases of being the most highly acclaimed scientific advancement and being the least favoured area of technology. Although it enjoyed a great deal of support and enthusiasm for the majority of its existence, it also suffered minor stages of disappointment and discouragement by researchers, business, and investors, which are each referred to as an ‘AI winter’. With the help of recent scientific breakthroughs, however, AI was able to make a come-back, as people finally had the technology to improve their AI systems and achieve the objective that they were striving for.
The ultimate goal to achieve human-like behaviour in machines is what drives the AI community. For example, AI can be implemented in healthcare to perform diagnosis, treatments, and surgeries, while businesses use AI to manage clients, improve their strategies, and maximise profits. This is because, unlike manual labor, machines can be programmed to be precise, enduring, quick, and much more efficient. Considering the fast-paced world we live in, and the ever-changing global market, machines seem to be the more profitable choice for any company, institution, or individual that is trying to maintain a steady flow of product/service consumption.
In 2019, the World Economic Forum stated that the increase in artificial intelligence could result in about 58 million new jobs (with some jobs added and other jobs displaced) by the year 2022. While some were concerned about the loss of certain jobs, others were comforted by the fact that several new jobs would be created.
The same study also estimated that only about 22% of workers who currently have AI related jobs are women. This statistic caused a huge stir in the AI industry. The question is, why does it matter? Why do we need women in AI?
Understanding the Need for Women in AI
Encouraging more women to take part in the field of AI is necessary for the following reasons –
- Diverse Perspectives: A healthy mix of women and men, working together towards a greater good, must always be encouraged. Such a diverse environment would increase the number of possibilities of growth and development within the AI sector, thus enhancing the overall progress of the field. This is especially necessary during the brainstorming of ideas and the development of new innovations, because certain use-cases or problems that may be crucial to women might end up being overlooked by men. Getting a female point-of-view would allow ideas to be contrived and executed with better results when applied in the real world.
- Reduced Bias: It can happen (and it has happened before) that AI systems end up being biased in their outcome. The most famously quoted example is Amazon’s AI recruitment bot that began rejecting women and hiring men because of the data that it was provided with. In a more recent incident, Twitter found that its cropping algorithm excluded men and black people from photos. By ensuring that a proportionately-formed team of women and men work together while developing such algorithms, such bias can be foreseen and avoided.
- Recognition of the Feminine Genius: Women have a lot to offer in STEM fields, and particularly in AI, but they may not always be motivated to get involved. They must realise that these fields do not just want women, but need women. They should be encouraged to use their talents, skills, strengths, and capabilities to take up leadership roles, to face challenges head-on, and to give their best towards the advancement of AI.
- Female Role-Models: The younger generation of girls need to know what an important role women play in AI. Girls need to have role-models to look up to and take inspiration from as they begin their own AI journey. They can take advice from women who would have had similar experiences as them, and learn from their mistakes.
Working towards a sensible proportion of women and men in AI is therefore a matter of technological interest, because AI needs both male and female involvement in order to reach its full potential.
How Can We Help?
Keeping this in mind, some ways to ensure a good balance of women and men in the field of Artificial Intelligence (and IT in general) are as stated below –
- Spread Awareness Among Women: It is often seen that men are directed from a young age towards an IT career, since they are seen as the primary bread-winners of the family, and it is a well known fact that IT careers usually pay well. They are thus given the right guidance and the necessary push to take up such jobs. However, women are not motivated as much to take up IT jobs. With the right awareness, encouragement, and mentoring, this can be changed.
- Normalise Women Friendly Company Benefits: Certain company benefits can be provided to make the job environment better for women. For example, pregnant women, new mothers, and single mothers can be allowed the necessary paid leave and other such provisions that would allow them to balance their work and their family life. Women can be allowed to work from home for 2-3 days in a month to help them carry out their regular work during their monthly cycle. Normalising women-specific company benefits would make help women to carry out their work as required, without ever having to feel like their womanhood is a burden.
- Motivate Elder Women to Participate: There are many women who decide to leave their jobs in order to devote their time to raising their children. While this is a commendable act for anyone who has the ability to do so, a number of them are unable to resume working again due to the general lack of support for the older community of employees. Increasing the amount of support and encouragement for such individuals would allow them to contribute more easily to the field.
- Build Communities for Women to Network: Networking plays a huge role in the IT sector. It allows people to connect, seek and provide guidance, share experiences, and find better opportunities. Providing women with a platform to easily connect with one another would allow them to help each other, build each other up, and inspire one another to excel in their career.
Artificial Intelligence is predicted to experience a tremendous amount of growth over the next few years, due to its diverse applicability in the real world. Many technological innovations and research activities are being catered towards the development and deployment of AI. In the long run, AI is intended to improve the overall quality of life, which can only be done if women and men work hand-in-hand to achieve this objective.