Towards equality in AI and tech
Amsterdam is a key player on the global stage when it comes to IT, tech innovation and specifically artificially intelligence. Numerous startups and entrepreneurs in the Netherlands are working towards providing tech and AI solutions for societal and global issues, from climate change to increasing inequality. However, the tech world faces its own issues when it comes to inequality – and the Netherlands is no exception. Women and minorities continue to face discrimination both within the tech industry and by AI tools themselves. As a response, numerous groups and initiatives in Amsterdam and the Netherlands are aiming to tackle this: increasing the number of women and non-binary people in tech, and working towards more inclusive AI.
Women’s tech champions in a man’s world
The first and most visible issue is gender diversity in the workplace. Amsterdam presents the perfect ecosystem for a career in tech and AI – but especially so if you’re a man. These industries are still largely dominated by (white) men, both globally and specifically in the Netherlands. According to the Dutch Government’s Taskforce for Diversity and Inclusion in the Digital Sector, currently only 18% of those working in IT in the Netherlands are women. More generally, 83% of startup founders in the Netherlands are male.
Several groups in Amsterdam are working to address this, raising awareness and providing support and funding to better welcome women into Amsterdam’s tech ecosystem. Among these groups are Women in Tech and Women in AI. Women in Tech provides mentoring and advocacy for women in STEM careers, while Women in AI specifically empowers woman innovators in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science. Its initiatives include the WaiACCELERATE programme: the world’s first full-cycle ethical empowerment and business accelerator aimed at female innovators celebrated its first graduates in 2020.
Wiping discrimination from AI
But besides the limited representation of minorities in tech roles, AI suffers from another fundamental issue: the data itself is often hardwired as exclusionary. As Eve Logunova, ambassador for Women in AI, explains, AI is “meant to automate processes and make our lives easier, but we must make sure we are not excluding people.”
In fact, the underrepresentation of minorities in the industry can be partly explained by human biases reproduced by algorithms – and vice versa. In other words, in an unequal field of tech leaders, AI tools will learn the biases of those who made them. “Right now, the field has mostly been the domain of white western men,” says Logunova. “That’s why algorithms suggest white western men when it comes to senior jobs. That’s why police cameras pick out people based on the colour of their skin. That’s why we need to clean the existing data sets and code algorithms that are non-discriminatory.”
What’s next for women in the industry?
Groups like Women in AI and Women in Tech continue to push for more gender-inclusive AI and more representation in the industry. Given that, key markers for success will be the growing proportion of women in tech and leadership roles, in part thanks to the above initiatives. As both these and other groups continue to spread globally and secure greater awareness and funding for female innovators, things are looking bright for a more equal and diverse future in tech.