The Harsh Reality About Being a Woman in AI and Data Science
This week, researchers at the Turing Institute, a data science and artificial intelligence hub in London, United Kingdom, published a report aptly titled: “Where are the women? Mapping the gender job gap in AI”. Their findings, while saddening, are far from surprising: women are severely under-represented in the UK and around the world, making up around 20% of the AI workforce. As a woman in data science, I almost didn’t even open this article. I know. I know it must be true. However, the prospect of a fully quantitative analysis arriving at this conclusion made me give it a thorough read.
The gender gap in the AI workforce is troubling for several reasons. The biggest concern is: how can a field so susceptible to bias such as data science and AI be driven by a workforce whose demographic is so skewed in favour of men? Google reported in 2018 that a shocking 10% of their AI workforce was made out of women. Facebook followed suit with 15%. Imagining these figures is difficult unless you happen to be a woman in a male-dominated space. As I was reading through this report, I felt increasingly alarmed at the context of this “20% women” figure, rather than at the figure itself. With each page, the gender gap became more and more bizarre in light of the researchers’ other findings. Let’s have a look.
Women in AI Are More Qualified Than Men
If you are a woman in tech, in general, you might have suspected this for a long time. At this point, the anecdote that men apply to jobs when they only meet part of the job criteria is well circulated as a piece of advice to women seeking employment. “If a man thinks he can do it, so can you!”, I have heard countless times while looking for my current data science job.
Whether you believe this anecdote or not, the fact is that women in AI were found to have higher formal education levels than men across all industries that employ an AI workforce, from Tech, Finance and Corporate Services, to Healthcare and Non-Profits. While the qualification gap looks fairly inconspicuous on average, with 6% more women than men holding a graduate degree or above, this figure shoots to 13% for positions in the C-suite (company executives such as CEO, CTO, etc).