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The Female Quotient

The more women get involved, the better AI will be for everyone

Published 17 October 2023 in The Female Quotient • 7 min read


Women and girls need more exposure to artificial intelligence. They possess the inherent potential to be pioneers in generative AI

Women hold just 26% of data and AI-centered jobs, and there is a significant gender gap in executive level jobs of this nature too. Women have also expressed more skepticism with AI than other groups, partly because of their fear of bias.

Ironically, people’s (including women’s) fear around AI could be assuaged if they were to use it more. It’s a bit like a cat chasing its tail. Over 50% of men are using AI in their professional and personal lives compared to just a third of women, which only makes it a more efficient tool for men – on whom more and more data can be collected.

“At Getty Images we have 50% female representation in data science which is unheard of in the industry. If you have this, you can bring your own lived experiences into interrogating the inputs and outputs of a model; diverse representation in data science teams means they bring their own lived experiences and, if they don’t, unconscious bias creeps into datasets,” says Candace Marks, Senior Director of Product Management at Getty Images.

But how about if women didn’t just balance out the data but also saw they had a niche role to play?

“Women have an advantage in AI,” says Anne Hunter, SVP of B2B Products and Go-to-Market, North America at Ipsos. “They tend to score better verbally in standardized tests – they use more words and provide more context which is what generative AI eats for breakfast.

“Historically, data science fields have been skewed towards men. And we think of that as the guts of AI. But generative AI gives women an opportunity to create equity by leaning into our strength of being verbal and providing context to the backend tools, regardless of who is developing them. Women can say ‘that’s not right; do it again’ really well!”

Reasons for polarization and reasons to fix it

Put simply, the people building these tools often don’t look like those using them. We need to find ways to present these AI blind spots to women in particular so they can understand what is at stake.

“AI is not the safest place to hang. We haven’t necessarily invited everyone in in a way that has made them feel safe,” says Emily Wengert, Managing Director and Executive Creative Director at Huge Inc. “And so, we continue to harm the very people for whom it’s time to change things.” 

AI blind spot
We need to find ways to present these AI blind spots to women in particular so they can understand what is at stake

“It’s critical to get young women and girls learning about STEM early so it isn’t as scary,” urges Marks. “Their participation will help goosebumps go and excitement grow. According to Pew Research, 23% of women compared to 17% of men are exposed to AI in the workplace which is also my lived experience. So, it is changing but I understand the trepidation.”

When it comes to female leaders, embracing AI can be seen as part of their responsibility.

Gen AI is set to be a $2tn market in 2030. “It’s the future; we are not going back to statistical models,” says Kanchana Patlolla, Technical Solutions Manager at Google.

In a plea to women in business, she says: “We are all going to be using it so please participate. Find your coach, role model, or sponsor in your organization and move forward.”

Asha Saxena, CEO at  Women Leaders in Data and AI (WLDA), also thinks women in business have a responsibility to find their voice and get engaged in tech development:

“AI is just a buzz word; previously there were mathematical models that understood and predicted recommendations and now we just have large language models. It’s been around a long time.” 

“We [as women leaders] must stand up and say we care about leaving a legacy. You might think you aren’t in AI, but each one of you, no matter what field you are in, is creating history and leaving a digital footprint. If we don’t stand up and contribute, we will be left behind. We can’t let that happen.”

How to gain women’s trust: slow down, and then invest in diversity

We have established that unless women – the same as with people of color – use AI, we cannot get rid of existing biases. But getting women’s trust in this area is particularly complicated.  

I would encourage these tech companies to take a step back and look at who is building out those AI models and then fill their numbers with more diversity.

“Women fear they are not only fighting for pay equality but maybe now for their jobs too,” says Jocelyn Lee, Managing Director, Digital Advertising at Deloitte Digital.

Compounding matters is the breakneck speed at which AI-makers are moving. 

“It feels like every other day a tech company has refashioned themselves into a Gen AI company,” she says.

“Everyone is trying to get out the gate fast because it’s the hot topic. I would encourage these tech companies to take a step back and look at who is building out those AI models and then fill their numbers with more diversity. It’s the right thing to do, but also better for business. 

“If you don’t have accuracy, ChatGPT and every other tech company is going to lose people’s trust and you’re not going to get the adoption and application as widely as you want to. Invest in more diversity with data science, and data sets, and AI models, or your consumers are not going to trust you.”

Not in my back yard!

“In our consumer studies, we have seen that people have got more concerned but also more excited about AI,” says Hunter.

She talks about a palpable sense of “awe” towards AI, especially regarding its health-related capabilities, but a coexisting fear in terms of giving away personal data: “There is a wonder and a worry which is good.”

Over in the world of creative marketing, Alexia Adana, VP and Director of Creative Technology at Edelman, is making the most of her role as one among the first allowed to experiment with the tools.

“I can make things, see what comes back, and discover biases like every time I try to prompt an image of a woman on Midjourney or Dall E. Even when I try to prompt a black woman, she doesn’t look like me so I ask: ‘What can we do on the creative text side to address that?’ We cannot change the data. It costs $20m just to train ChatGPT.”

Instead, she will ask: “What plug ins and experiences can we create?” and “What conversations can we have to help train developers, and make a statement to these companies?”

Adana forms part of a huge community that includes AI practitioners who are building third-party plug ins and add-ons, often adopted by major companies. They operate in the playgrounds of YouTube, LinkedIn and Instagram where they are inspired and able to experiment, taking learnings back to their agencies to see what solutions can be created.

This article is based on a panel discussion from The Female Quotient’s (FQ) Equality Lounge sessions at Advertising Week New York 2023, which were designed to unmask the biases of AI. IMD is an academic partner of The Female Quotient, which joins forces with companies and leaders to curate experiences, thought leadership, and solutions designed to achieve gender equality in the workplace and beyond.

Kanchana Patlolla

Technical Solutions Manager, Google

Mutale Knonde

Mutale Nkonde

CEO and Founder, AI For The People

Sandra Garcia

Sandra Garcia

Founder, Encounter Your Potential

Asha Saxena

Asha Saxena


Shelley Zalis

Shelley Zalis

CEO, The Female Quotient

As founder and CEO of The Female Quotient, Zalis is in the business of equality™.


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