Why closing the gender gap in AI requires immediate action?

Why closing the gender gap in AI requires immediate action?


Every area of the economy has experienced extraordinary levels of digitalization over the past five years, spurred on by the pandemic. Private investment in the industry totaled $93.5 billion in 2021 alone, more than quadruple the amount in 2020. The technology driving the digital transition, artificial intelligence (AI), leaves women behind at every stage of its life cycle.

The gender gap in AI is a self-sustaining problem. And it runs the risk of leaving us with a technological and economic system in which women are vastly underrepresented.

The lack of women in AI

Women are less active online than men. The epidemic hastened the uptake of mobile internet, but according to GSMA data, women are 16% less likely than males to use mobile internet in low- and middle-income countries. Additionally, the gender gap in industry 4.0 has made it much harder for women to break into the tech industry.

With the percentage of female PhDs in computer science and artificial intelligence (AI) remaining at 20% for the previous ten years, this enormous disparity is a problem that has not been resolved.

These are serious issues in and of themselves, but they also have repercussions on other aspects of the AI life cycle, particularly in terms of innovation and advancement. The percentage of men who graduate in information and communication technologies (ICT) is 400% higher than that of women (8.2% versus 1.7%), according to recent study by the World Economic Forum.

Only one-quarter of all tech occupations are held by women, and men continue to hold the majority of technical and leadership positions in the industry. Particularly, only 22% of AI professionals worldwide are women. Only 18% of writers at the top AI conferences are female, while only 13.83% of AI papers are written by women. In 2019, only 2% of venture financing went to start-ups run by women.

These figures violate fundamental ideas of inclusion and diversity. But the industry as a whole suffers from the lack of female participation as well, as it becomes more effective the more gender varied it is.

Threatened to intensify this trend even further is COVID-19. Due to the fact that women in tech are twice as likely as males to have lost their jobs and that 42% of them claim to have handled the majority of domestic duties during the epidemic, the inequity women suffer at work is exacerbated by the imbalance they feel at home.

Gender biases in data sets and AI algorithm products, as well as the lack of gender diversity in the workforce, gender inequities in STEM education, and the inability to address the unequal distribution of power and leadership in the AI sector, are all grave concerns. These systems reproduce gender prejudice in ways that can widen the existing gender gap by propagating and strengthening negative gender preconceptions.

Taking systemic inequalities into account

Addressing the inequality at every stage of the life cycle is the main task in this situation. To effectively and efficiently fight these problems, we must legislate equality and advance diversity.

In order to promote women and girls' full participation in the digital sector, it is imperative that concrete policy measures be put in place. At the same time, it is important to address ingrained stereotypes and social norms that persistently contribute to discrimination and even violence against women. Beyond national laws, we require a universal standard—a normative tool—to direct the creation and application of AI, ensuring that they serve the interests of all people, particularly women and girls.

This problem has been accepted by UNESCO.

The Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, the first global standard-setting document for AI, was created at the request of its members and adopted by all 193 Member States in November 2021.

The recommendation establishes the foundation for a digital transition that supports environmental sustainability, gender equality, human rights, and human dignity. It accomplishes this by using a related set of moral standards to direct the ethical creation and application of artificial intelligence.

In an important way, the recommendation urges governments to support gender equality, the idea of "ensuring diversity and inclusiveness," and the rule of "fairness and non-discrimination," laying the foundation for an ethical gender-equality imperative in the digital age.

The advice includes the following specific steps to address this issue:

  • ·       Allocating monies from the public budgets tied to sponsoring gender-related programs.
  • ·       Ensuring that a gender action plan is included in national digital policies.
  • ·       Addressing the issue of the pay and opportunity inequities at work, which have long been a significant barrier to women's economic empowerment.
  • ·       Promoting female entrepreneurship, involvement, and engagement throughout the whole AI life cycle.
  • ·       Investing in programmes that are specifically designed to expand chances for girls and women to participate in STEM and ICT fields.
  • ·       Eliminating gender stereotypes and making sure that prejudices are not reflected in AI systems.

In order to guarantee that AI is used to advance the rights of all people, especially women and girls, UNESCO is also creating two ground-breaking tools: Readiness Assessment Methodology and Ethical Impact Assessment.

We have a decision to make today between progress and digitally reproducing the injustices and discrimination of the physical world. The gender gap in digital technology has always existed and will continue to persist unless we change the gendered societal norms, despite the market's increasing availability of this technology.

We must act now to catch up with the quickly growing industry, especially with the tools provided by UNESCO to close the gender gap in AI. As stated in the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, we cannot wait another 132 years to close the gender gap globally.

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