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There is already a major gender gap in the AI sector

Men outnumber women by a margin of three to one in the AI sector, according to a new gender equality report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

WEF’s researchers found that while the global gender gap has narrowed slightly this year, women hold just 22 per cent of jobs in the AI workforce, representing a gender gap three times larger than average.

The analysis, which was based on LinkedIn data, also revealed that women in the sector were more likely to be employed as data analysts, researchers and information managers, while men held more lucrative jobs as software engineers, heads of engineering and CEOs.

The findings come in the wake of a series of studies indicating that algorithms often reflect and amplify bias. Researchers in the US revealed last year that some natural language processing models associate the word “programmer” with “man” and “homemaker” with “woman”. Facial recognition algorithms, meanwhile, are more likely to misidentify women and people of colour.

WEF’s Saadia Zahidi said it was essential that industries “proactively hardwire gender parity in the future of work through effective training, reskilling and upskilling interventions and tangible job transition pathways, which will be key to narrowing these emerging gender gaps and reversing the trends we are seeing today”.

Jennifer Major, head of IT at SAS UK and Ireland, warned that the statistics were indicative of a “wider problem with equal representation in tech. That has to change and it makes business sense that it does.”

“A homogenous group might not consciously discriminate against those who are different to itself – but it is more likely to privilege similar ideas and perspectives,” Major added. “As AI moves ever further into the mainstream, the industry must take steps to ensure that it is truly for all – not just a privileged few. As wide a range of viewpoints as possible must be fed into the development of AI. Only then can it fulfil its potential as a force for good.”