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Alexa, Siri, Sophia: Deconstructing AI's Subliminal Gender Bias

5min read
Culture

For women in artificial intelligence research, gender bias is a major barrier to success. Silicon Valley's gender problem isn't just a social justice issue however. Should the top positions in tech continue to go to men only, the tech world could be stifling its own capacity for innovation and threatening the future of AI research. The world's top female researchers are redefining the field and enacting a sea-change in the way the AI industry think about gender.


The Tech World's Gender Problem

Gender bias in the tech industry dates back to its inception. The historically male-dominated industry has long possessed an almost cult-like meritocracy, where employees are often encouraged to devote their entire lives to the success of the product. This creates an environment where discriminatory practices remain pervasive under the guise of a reward system; employees outside the standard masculine mold are often denied the same pay or promotion pathways as male employees, even when they meet or exceed job expectations.

In 2015, tech investor Trae Vassallo and several colleagues co-authored a survey titled “The Elephant in the Valley." The survey investigated the experiences of female leaders and innovators in the tech industry, and the results were bleak; 84 percent of interviewees were told they were “too aggressive," 66 percent experienced exclusionary practices, and a shocking 60 percent experienced sexual harassment. Just 18 percent of undergraduates in computer science in 2011 were women, down from 37 percent in 1985.

Gender Bias in Artificial Intelligence

Like the rest of the tech industry, AI's gender bias is similarly pervasive. The artificial intelligence sector is expected to grow from $21 billion to $190 billion between 2018 and 2025, and the employment demographic is overwhelmingly male. The field has had a difficult time developing its female workforce, potentially due to the nature of AI research itself.

“Research has become very narrowly focused on solving technical problems and not on the big questions," says Marie desJardins, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland. Also, desJardins notes the distance between the work being done in AI and the betterment of society in general.

That gap could be turning women away from the field, since women tend to value their work's contribution to their community higher than men.

AI's diversity issues affect women as well as other gender minorities like transgender and non-binary individuals, and these diversity issues also continue beyond gender. “Cultural diversity is big too," says Heather Knight, founder of Marilyn Monrobot Labs in New York City. Racial underrepresentation in the tech world compounds issues for women from minority ethnic groups. Gender and racial bias in AI are significant enough to have an effect on the way the algorithms themselves are developed, which could have lasting consequences for society if the problem isn't met head-on.

AI Algorithms Reflect Gender Bias

If researchers use biased datasets to train AIs, gender bias may become embedded in the technology itself. A study conducted on image-recognition software in 2016 found patterns that reinforced gender stereotypes. When asked to associate images with either men or women, the algorithm consistently linked women to images of kitchens, reflecting or exaggerating the gender biases it perceived.

Since the 100,000 images used were collected broadly from the web, biases in media were reflected in the AI's analysis. In a similar case, Microsoft's conversational AI “Tay" took in data from Twitter conversations and began repeating racist and misogynist phrases in less than twenty-four hours.

AIs will need to be closely managed to avoid mirroring the gender biases present in today's society.

Biases in Technology and Media

The link between gender discrimination and artificial intelligence doesn't end in employment statistics. Gender bias is implicit in AI itself. “There's a clear bias in the way women are depicted in science fiction," says Alex Haslam, media relations specialist for HowtoWatch.com. “AIs are overwhelmingly female, and are often depicted as dangerous."

Many critics have also found it problematic that almost every digital assistant uses a female name and voice. Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, and Alexa all reinforce the stereotype of the female administrator. “It's much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes," Stanford communications professor Clifford Nass tells CNN. Whether psychological or cultural, the presence of female AIs helps these stereotypes persist.

Women Shaping the Future of AI

New efforts to close the gender gap in the sciences are charting a new course for those who have often been marginalized in the AI industry. Female professors, researchers, investors, and scientists are tackling gender bias in AI using innovative applications of technology, education, and more than a little common sense.

“The field of AI has traditionally been focused on computational intelligence, not on social or emotional intelligence," explains Rana el Kaliouby, co-founder of the AI research firm Affectiva. Kaliouby and other AI experts are looking to develop a social conscience for the AI algorithms of tomorrow, embedding moral and ethical principles into the technology.

Other female leaders in the AI field are addressing enrollment issues by designing education programs specifically for young girls. Millions of individuals have enrolled in AI and machine learning courses through programs like Coursera, with disadvantaged or underrepresented groups reporting the most benefit.

Addressing Gender Bias Through AI Technology

The incredible capacity of artificial intelligence is also addressing gender bias in society directly. A new AI algorithm developed by Google and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media uses AI to detect male and female faces in popular films. The AI algorithm logs screen-time and speaking time for characters of different genders.

In the top films of the past three years, the algorithm found discouraging gaps; female characters received roughly half of the screen and speaking time of male characters. In the future, this data could assist filmmakers in avoiding techniques or casting selections that reinforce biases, encouraging stronger gender diversity in film.

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The embedded nature of gender bias in today's society makes progress towards equality difficult, but burgeoning fields like artificial intelligence have a higher potential for social progress. Top computer scientists and AI experts have turned their attention to addressing gender bias in AI. If artificial intelligence lives up to its expectations as a game-changing technology, a more socially responsible foundation today could have a big influence on our future.

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Women in Power: How to Get Better at Mentorship and Business Leadership

If you are reading this, then it is quite likely that you are a business leader and mentor already, and the very fact that you are looking to improve your skills beyond your current capacity means you are already ahead of the game.


In corporate sectors all around, a general trend has been observed which point towards the conclusion that talented women employees do thrive better under female mentorship. What this means is that women at the forefront of corporate leadership today must continue to improve in their ability to both lead and mentor the leaders of tomorrow. This is facilitated by the easy availability of ILM Level 7 Executive Coaching courses and training nowadays, which we are going to discuss in detail next.

Improving as a Mentor: Where Do You Start?

Given that improving on leadership and mentorship skills only concerns those that are already leading businesses and tutoring fresh talent under them, the very first requirement here concerns completing advanced ILM Level 7 Coaching programs.

However, in order to also include a more comprehensive educational curriculum and training to hone your mentorship skills to a point, it would be a good idea to go with a BCF Group program, which will help you to get that widely respected and vastly useful ILM Level 7 Certificate in Executive Coaching and Mentoring.

The BCF Group is one of the UK's most highly rated Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) Approved Centres for ILM Level 7 Executive Coaching Courses. To know more about what exactly to expect during and after completing your ILM Level 7 Qualifications in Executive Coaching and Mentoring from the centre, head over to the official site.

In the meantime, some of the advantages of their ILM Level 7 Coaching curriculums can be highlighted as follows:

  • Advanced understanding of high-level coaching and mentoring theories
  • Critical evaluation of one's own leadership mentoring and executive coaching practices
  • Knowing how to relate someone's personality and nature of business to her own mentoring practices
  • Personal growth: Effective learning and mentoring fellow coaches

Once you have the ILM Level 7 Coaching Certificate, you are finally ready to take on advanced responsibilities as a business leader and significantly improve on your ability to mentor the fresh, female executives and leaders that rely on you for guidance.

Without the necessary advanced education and training, progress would not be possible after a point, but once you do end up completing your certifications, it is time to build on that that knowledge and training by adding your own unique touches towards developing a mentoring procedure for your clients/executives.

Understanding the 3 Different Aspects of Mentorship which Hold the Most Value to Corporate Women

There are various different aspects of business coaching, but most women usually need more assistance and guidance in some particular areas over others. If you have a certificate in executive coaching and mentoring, you most likely possess the ability to cover at least two of them for your clients.

After going through the opinion of numerous business mentors who have had a great deal of experience in working with talented women across multiple fields, the primary mentoring needs of corporate women in particular seem to be divided into three broad categories:

  • Advisory mentorship
  • Strategic mentorship
  • Operational mentorship

Advisory Mentorship: Feedback

Most women working in a corporate environment agree that their managers are not as straightforward or guiding with their feedback to the female executives as they are usually with the male executives. The feedback is, of course, extremely important for growth, and in its absence, improvement and employee evolution is often stunted - even in those with potential.

The advisory role of the mentor is meant to fill this damaging gap by providing her with valuable feedback which she can then use to further her own progress. It is important for everyone, regardless of gender, to get a clear idea regarding what their weaknesses are that they need to work on, as well as getting feedback on their strengths, so that they know exactly what to rely on in times of urgency. The advisory role played by a coach and mentor involves doing both and much more.

Strategic Mentorship: Exposure

Exposure is another part of the industry where women employees and even female business owners are lagging behind, since managers, partners and other decision makers often end up highlighting the best performing men over the equally talented (if not more so) women.

The job of the strategic mentor is to make sure that her clients are not overshadowed by anyone. They work towards bringing the spotlight to talented leaders and executives, so that they too can form valuable partnerships, get promotions, and find more suited roles for their talents. It is to be noted that experienced and well-connected business coaches who have been in the field for a while make the best strategic mentors for obvious reasons.

Operational Mentorship: Advice

Operational mentorship goes beyond just the generic advice, but involves an actual process and step by step solution to overcoming obstacles in a female executive's path to success, be it for an immediate project or a long-term goal.

Just as experienced coaches and mentors are ideal for strategic mentorship, women need more industry specific guidance when it comes to operational mentors. They need to be women who have actually worked in the specific field concerned, or finding practical solutions and forming strategies to overcome specific obstacles will prove difficult, even if the mentor has her best interests in mind.

When you are a highly qualified, experienced and successful female business coach, know that you are not only helping your clients reach success, but you are at the same time being seen as a role model for women working in the corporate sector. Every time you succeed in making another woman reach her goals, you are inspiring more women to follow in your footsteps, as well as showing them how to walk that road to success by mentoring them.