There Aren’t That Many Women in AI Fields, Both in Reality and in Film. What Needs to Change?

Around the world, women make up less than a quarter of the AI workforce. This data, shared by the World Economic Forum (WEF), is indicative of a bias that starts in childhood. According to the WEF, reasons like societal and cultural norms can lead to fewer women taking up STEM education. Experts believe that the number of women in AI will only increase when equal opportunities are created for women.

Life imitates art and art imitates life, right? The notion applies to women’s representation in the data science field, too; the WEF’s unfortunate statistic is present even in media content. A study, conducted by Cambridge University researchers, found that barely 8% of AI professionals depicted in popular movies between 1920 and 2020 were women. As many as 1,400 films on AI were reviewed as part of the study, out of which 142 influential films were finally analyzed. A total of 116 AI professionals were identified, of which just nine were female. Prominent movies that were analyzed included Ex Machina, released in 2014, and those from the Avengers franchise.


Dr. Natalie’s Thoughts:

Dr. Natalie Morse, a senior data scientist at Torqata Data and Analytics, discussed why universal childcare and formalized federal parental leave policies could go a long way in changing the current statistics on women in AI and other STEM fields.


“It’s important that we have women represented in film. It is, but it’s more important that we actually create spaces where women can be successful in AI, in tech, in all fields. So, I have been the only female on an all-men tech team where we did R&D focused on AI. It was a Fortune 500 company. It was awesome. The main qualification for being in that room was having your PhD in Computer Science. Same for these films, right? All these tech geniuses, they’ve got their PhDs because you don’t just wake up and become an AI genius. In the US, we graduate about 3,500 PhDs in this space every year, and only 30% are female. So about 850 women each year even have the potential to become these AI leaders and geniuses. The number’s gone up about 6% in the last five years. But it’s still not 50-50 or anywhere close.

So, why are less females going into this space? Let me tell you a story. So I’ve got friends that are married. They’re doctors, they have children. Doctor number one works full-time, doctor number two works part-time. Doctor number one is has even said, “I would actually really like you not to work because it would make my life so much easier.” Guess which one is male and which one is female? Yeah, I think you know, and this story plays out again and again over every kitchen counter in the US, right? Either explicitly or implicitly.

So, why would women go through all this hoopla to get this big degree that’s hard, that’s a PhD, if in five years, they’re expected to become a caretaker anyway? So, that is the bigger problem that tech is up against. We’re asking tech to solve a problem that is bigger than tech, right? It is a cultural problem in the US, right? Tech, politics, finance, medicine, all male-dominated fields and all things that we’re trying to solve, but we’re not actually solving the issue. So, I would love to see more women in film. I would really love to see policies that actually make it okay for women to succeed in industries. That means maybe pay parental leave, maybe childcare for children under five, expanded elder care. All of these things need to exist for women to be successful in AI or any field.”


Rhonda’s Thoughts:

Rhonda Dibachi, CEO of HeyScottie, an AI-enabled and cloud-based service for finishing services, gives her take on STEM numbers in the last 5 years and in her lifetime and where to look for inspiration for needed change.


“I think the stigma has lessened. I think it’s easier for women to be accepted and be attracted to science careers and STEM careers in general. If you take a look at the U.S. Census Bureau statistics in 1970, only 8% of STEM workforce were women. In 2019, that number had risen to 27%, so that’s good. Even though it’s 50 years, it’s within my lifetime and I’ve seen it. So, I like the direction, I like the way it’s going. If you see some young woman who is still having that stigma keeping her from her full potential, I would suggest that she look to role models, and I would suggest that she’d go to Hollywood to see some role models of strong, smart STEM-smart women, because there’s tons of them now, and there didn’t used to be when I was growing up.”

Article by Aarushi Maheshwari & Sonya Young.

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