Women’s History Month: Building Leaders of Tomorrow, Today

 In Evidence, Think Piece
For ‘Women’s History Month’ in March, APPG AI is collaborating with Rajinder Tumber, one of the members from the Citizen Participation Task Force, to launch ‘The Voice’ – The Women’s History Month Series.

In this series, women from some of the world’s most prestigious organisations will be making their voices heard, in the attempt to attract more women into the world of AI and cyber security. 

Women’s History Month: Building Leaders of Tomorrow, Today

March honours the great influence, achievements, and legacy of extraordinary women around the world — past and present.  After being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project in 1987, the U.S. Congress passed public law 100-9, which appointed the month of March 1987 as Women’s History Month.  Since 1995, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating March as Women’s History Month.

In the early 1900s, Women’s rights were a political hot topic.  Women’s suffrage (referring to the right of women to vote and hold public office) was a priority for women.  Due to the economic depression of the 1930s and World War II, the topic was put on hold.  In the 1950s and 1960s, it was argued that middle-class housewives had to give up intellectual and professional aspirations.  Then, the women’s movement began to revive.  Women have since become prime ministers, presidential candidates, as well as CEO’s.

But now there seems to be another fight for women to face as the future dawns.  Due to technological innovation, we’re heading into a world that may be dominated by artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber security.  But tomorrow’s world may not resemble the original vision in which these innovations are supposed to assist and protect.  This is because there is a major shortage of women involved in AI and cyber security, and therefore, designing tomorrow’s world.

In current development is a vast array of advanced technology including self-driving cars, smart cities, facial recognition, and smart gadgets.  Tomorrow’s world is meant to be aligned with the goals of today’s leaders, but the people whose work underpins this technology doesn’t quite align with our society.  Why? Because of the lack of diversity amongst creators, particularly a lack of women.  It’s essential that women become more involved in the development and rollout of AI and cyber security so that the technology’s goals are in alignment with society as a whole. 

For example, the development of robots is well underway.  As robots are being programmed to think and behave like humans, it’s vital they are not programmed (on purpose or accident) with the same prejudices that women are trying to fight across the world today.  Speaking of programming, do you know that the first computer programmer was a woman, the Countess of Lovelace? Additionally, women also possess abilities that are vital for technological development; research has shown that while male brains have more connections to optimize motor skills, female brains have more connections to combine analytical and intuitive thinking.

For cyber security, it’s important for women to be involved because attackers come from a wide range of backgrounds, including women.  Therefore, the greater the range of people to protect devices and networks, the higher the chances of defending against attacks and locating the perpetrators.

Consider the following points:

  • According to a research paper by Oxford University, 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of automation.
  • From one study, WIRED found that only 12 percent of women make up the AI workforce.
  • A report has revealed that only 14 percent of women make up the cyber security workforce.

The lack of women in AI and cyber security is very concerning.  Not only do women risk missing out on tomorrow’s world of opportunities, but women also face a decline in social and economic influence.

Why is this the case?  Are AI and cyber security generally considered to be masculine careers?  Are schools equally educating boys and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)?  Does society push the perception that STEM involves male-oriented subjects?  Or could it come down to the fact that the brains of men and women are fundamentally wired differently?

The following esteemed individuals were happy to provide their views to Rajinder Tumber:

I have no reasonable explanation for the lack of women in the cyber and artificial intelligence industries. It might be because women have not yet discovered that line of education and qualification or recruiters are hiring preferably men over women. Women are not only highly intelligent and intuitive, but also very investigative, thorough and highly detail oriented, which in my opinion would more than qualify them for these kind of industries.

Diversity in the workforce encourages creativity, drives innovation and better equips us as a society to solve the complex challenges of the digital economy. At institutions such as Cardiff Metropolitan, they are working hard to adjust the gender balance within both the staff and student body. Within Cardiff Met’s new School of Technologies, whilst the staff ratio is a promising 33% female, the gender imbalance is more acute among students, reflecting, on the whole, UK national trends. With new programmes such as Computer Security, Data Science and Robotics & AI, there is a real opportunity to begin to correct this by facilitating lucrative careers in emerging fields critical to a thriving UK economy. Perceptions are not changed overnight but across this particular institution, various initiatives and targets will improve gender balance over time. Faculties such as Cardiff School of Technologies are building links across the local school and college community to support these initiatives. By engaging with schools and colleges within the local area it hopes to change the image of   computing and engineering in the minds of young people about to make university choices to encourage a more balanced population willing to pursue technology and engineering as a career, and build on creativity.

It seems to me that the majority of women prefer to work in an environment where they are interacting with people. Cyber security and AI are at the technical end of the technology spectrum which requires a very focused and more solitary work place. I believe the male population in general prefer to work with ‘things’ and females are more inclined to engage with others.

Ladies and gentlemen, our future is being threatened without the balance which women can bring.  To strike at the heart of the matter and gain insight into the pivotal questions above, Rajinder Tumber has interviewed some of the brightest and smartest women around the world.  Their voices, are proudly recognised as the leaders of today.  We hope women will also become the leaders of tomorrow.  Stay tuned for ‘THE VOICE’ — The Women’s History Month series, coming soon!

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