Artificial Intelligence is penetrating in every walk of life, fundamentally changing the way we associate, work and think. AI can transform societies and improve the quality of life of people through predictive, personalised and optimised solutions, improving their health, reducing carbon emissions, enhancing resilience against disasters among others.

But AI can also threaten privacy with invasive applications, disrupt human rights, and fuel inequality. The impact of AI on societies largely depends on the motives and minds behind the technology. It is imperative to have equitable participation of diverse people, especially women, to make AI holistic and beneficial for everyone.

On the occasion of the 8th International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we, as women in AI, reflect on the gender trends and participation of women in the AI industry.

More women in AI needed

Globally, women are under-represented in the field of AI and there is a growing recognition of the need for more equitable opportunities for women to realise their full potential in this rapidly growing field. As per the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, women make up only 22 per cent of the AI workforce. This not only limits the diversity of perspectives and experiences that are shaping the future of AI, but also perpetuates the gender pay gap and limits career growth.

AI systems that are designed without considering the experiences and needs of diverse populations can perpetuate discrimination and inequality. We are witnessing how gendered names and voices of AI chatbots taking commands from customers are already reinforcing unfair gender stereotypes.

In other instances, gender-blind AI designs are leading to unfair credit scoring of women. Biased AI-recruiting tools have automatically filtered-out job applications from women. The AI industry can have a positive impact on society only when it is inclusive and adopts gender-sensitive approaches and this is possible when women participate in all stages of AI development and deployment.

Some governments and international organisations have initiated programmes to improve the participation of women in AI, starting from education and research to employment and entrepreneurship. For instance, in India, KIRAN scheme is inducting more women scientists in research and development roles.

India’s National Strategy for AI focuses on inclusiveness, and promotes the idea of #AIFORALL. Under this programme, Telangana aims to train 1,00,000 students, with a focus on girls from vulnerable backgrounds on AI and Data Science and has already trained more than 5,000 girls.

Additionally, rural women in Telangana are also being trained and employed in three rural data annotation centres in the State. The government also promoted We-Hub, an incubator for women entrepreneurs in Hyderabad that has trained more than 700 girls aged 13 to 17 in Data Science and AI.

Thanks to the efforts to bridge the gender gap on the education front, today 43 per cent of STEM graduates produced in India are women which is higher than most advanced economies. However a lot more needs to be done on the work front, as only 14 per cent of STEM jobs in India go to women. Additionally, 81 per cent of women in STEM face gender bias during performance evaluations during their career.

Global gap

This mismatch between education, employment and career growth is not different from the global context. Tech giants like Google and Facebook have only 10-15 per cent AI specialists as women. The disparity exists in research as well. A study published by Nesta found that only 13.83 per cent of AI research publications are authored by women. This under-representation is especially worrying as a growing number of studies suggest that biased AI systems can exacerbate existing gaps in workforce and even harm under-represented communities.

To address this gender disparity in AI, it is important to change mindsets, accelerate efforts and investments to create opportunities for women and girls. Private sector should act fast by promoting leadership positions for women in AI, having equal number of women participating in panel discussions, ending gender pay gap, providing mentorship and networking opportunities, prioritising recruitments of young women from diverse backgrounds in AI roles, invest in entrepreneurship and research led by women in AI, promoting AI competencies among girls and women, and facilitating women from multidisciplinary backgrounds to participate in the AI revolution.

Governments and educational institutions can play a crucial role by investing and executing programmes that boost the participation of women in AI such as skills development programmes in AI designed for women, scholarships, research grants, and internships. Additionally, the media can help raise awareness and promote the positive representation of women in AI.

As AI continues to grow and evolve, there will be enormous opportunities for women from both technical and non-technical backgrounds. There are many paths to get into the AI industry and majoring in computer science or data science is one of them. Non-technical roles in AI such as those in regulation, ethics, governance, communication, and management are becoming increasingly important, and offer a variety of paths for women to contribute to and shape the field.

With the G20 presidency and spotlight on Nari Shakti, India is best positioned to drive international cooperation and shape the global policy on advancing gender equality in AI.

Rama is Director of Emerging Technologies, Govt of Telangana; Swetha is Head of Experimentation, UNDP; and Parvathy is CTO at Analytics for a Better World Institute, The Netherlands. Views are personal