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Why we must act to close the gender gap in AI

While AI was the buzzword at Davos 2024, the real story addresses the underlying questions of digital inclusion, transformative opportunity of AI in healthcare or space technology, and the serious need of global collaboration on governance.

women in AI

As the World Economic Forum achieved a record-breaking attendance of over 800 women this year, women leaders steered conversations toward inclusive innovation and diversity in the realms of technology. An opportunity to reflect on the current state of women's representation in the field of AI technology.

The last 5 years have seen unprecedented rates of digitalization in every sector of the economy, and the rise of AI brings an entire new territory to explore. Women, however, are being left behind at every step of the artificial intelligence life cycle. Tech workforce is still largely dominated by men and women represent only 22% of AI professionals, creating an important gender gap. 

This gender gap in AI is self-perpetuating, and risks leaving us with an inequitable economic and technological system with a massive underrepresentation of women. 

This inequity is a pressing problem in itself, as it is an affront to key principles of diversity and inclusion. But it also leads to ripple effects, such as an uneven distribution of power and leadership in AI and gender biases in data sets and coded in AI Algorithm products.

These biases are a pressing concern as it exacerbates the current gender divide. These systems replicate patterns of gender bias and contribute to spread and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. 

It has emerged clearly that we must act to address systemic inequality at every stage of the AI life cycle. 

When it comes to the “how”, it requires concrete actions to foster women participation, concrete actions to tackle the problem, including the definition of gender action plan, encouraging female entrepreneurship, addressing the issue of wage and equal opportunities gaps at the workplace and advocating for women’s economic empowerment.  In other words, we must legislate for equality and promote diversity in digital. 

UNESCO has led the reflection on the ethics of AI and produced in November 2021 the “Recommendation on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence”, a framework based on four core values. One of these values is ensuring diversity and inclusiveness, and contains an entire chapter on gender equality. With this report, we have a set of practical tools to bridge the gender gap. It is now the time for organizations and governments to seize the issue and put the words into action.

At the heart of the progress in AI, lies the imperative of diversity and inclusion as pillars of innovation. As digital technology will become more widely available and technology will continue to progress, we stand at a crossroads: the choice between replicating the world’s inequalities or creating a digital environment that fosters diversity and inclusion.

We must work at closing the gender gap that is emerging in the emerging field of AI.

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