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AI Forum

NZ must close the gender gap in AI

The gender gap in the artificial intelligence sector (AI) risks perpetuating vastly inequitable outcomes for women in an age where digitalisation offers real economic advantage.

The gender gap in AI is caused by the exclusion of women at every stage of the AI lifecycle, the tech powering our digital transformation.

The issue will be a hot topic at the Aotearoa AI Summit in Auckland on September 12 AIForumNZ executive director Madeline Newman says.

New Zealand’s essential AI event – Aotearoa AI Summit – is an intensive agenda designed to showcase AI in Action across Aotearoa. 

“It’s the reason we are partnering with She Sharp and AUT to run the first female-led AI Hackathon in New Zealand.

“In New Zealand, women make up only 26 percent of the sector. Aotearoa ranks 39th in the World Economic Forum’s latest annual gender gap report.

“In terms of economic participation and opportunity cost that’s concerning because until our tech community mirrors the make-up of our wider community, we will continue to experience tech that doesn’t quite fit – either New Zealand or New Zealanders. 

“The last five years have seen unprecedented rates of digitalisation across every sector of our economy, supercharged by the pandemic.

“Yet we see the impact of this exclusion evidenced in the report which identifies that women are still 16 percent less likely than men to use mobile internet across low-and middle-income countries. This means they are missing out on very real economic advantages associated with tech inclusion.

“So while we have some amazing women champions in technology, including Megan Tapsell, chair of AIFNZ, and Dr Mahsa McCauley, director of women in tech at AUT, we need to do more to encourage participation.

“A wide range of new careers and opportunities are opening up in the technology sector from designers to project coordinators, conversation script writers to product and office support crew, many of which are roles that do not require a university degree and can offer much better pay and working conditions.   

“As the recent World Economic Forum research demonstrates, the gender gap in AI is a problem that has seen little improvement over the past decade, with the share of female AI and computer science PhDs stuck at 20 percent; and just 2 percent of venture capital directed towards start-ups founded by women in 2019.

“A total of 82 percent of graduates in information and communication technologies are men. This means the tech workforce and leadership is likely to continue to be dominated by men going forward.”

“When you have inequality like this, the result skews both research and innovation towards the majority bias.”

“Concrete policy actions are needed to foster women and teen students’ full participation in the digital sector in tandem with holistic responses to systemic gender discrimination,” Newman says.”

For further information contact AIForumNZ executive director Madeline Newman on 021 274 9778 or NZTech’s media specialist, Make Lemonade editor-in-chief Kip Brook on 0275 030188

AI Forum The AI Forum brings together New Zealand’s artificial intelligence community, working together to harness the power of AI technologies to enable a prosperous, inclusive and thriving future New Zealand.