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Women in AI in academia and industry chart

Women continue to be severely underrepresented in AI.

What’s new: A meta-analysis of research conducted by Synced Review for Women’s History Month found that female participation in various aspects of AI typically hovers between 10 and 20 percent.

What they found:  Much of the research included in the analysis was based on numbers generated by rules-based software that categorizes names according to gender. Synced Review, which is based in China, said it didn’t examine studies of Chinese companies or institutions because Chinese names don’t correlate as tightly with gender as names in other languages.

  • The 2019 AI Index produced by Stanford University’s Human-Centered AI Institute reported that females made up 20 percent of faculty members in academic AI departments. That number isn’t likely to rise soon; 20 percent of new faculty hires and 20 percent of AI-related PhD recipients are female.
  • A 2018 study by Wired and Element AI, an enterprise software company, tallied men and women who contributed to the major AI conferences NeurIPS, ICLR, and ICML. Twelve percent were women. In a 2019 review of 21 conferences by Element AI, the percentage rose to 18 percent.
  • A 2018 Wired analysis of AI researchers at Google and Facebook estimated that 10 percent of Google’s machine learning workforce and 15 percent of Facebook’s AI researchers were women. (Both companies later said the report had understated the true number, but they didn’t provide further information.)
  • Researchers at Nesta, a UK research foundation, analyzed AI research papers on Arxiv. Women accounted for 12 percent of authors in 2015, less than in 2009.

Behind the news: Women have a prominent place in AI’s history, going all the way back to Ida Rhodes, who in the 1960s laid the groundwork for natural language processing. The percentage of American women with computer science degrees, however, peaked in the mid-1980s at around 35 percent, and since has declined to under 20 percent.

Why it matters: It’s important that people building the future represent diverse groups to make sure that anyone can participate and that the products we build encompass a variety of perspectives.

We’re thinking: Each one of us can help promote diversity. Leaders can make an effort to interview, hire, and mentor underrepresented groups, and everyone can help make the workplace inclusive.


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