Today (8 March 2023) is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity. Shifting away from the mindset that equal access for everyone is enough, it’s an invitation and a challenge to instead give people what they need to experience an equal outcome. Enter: equity. We took a critical look at the tech industry to see how equitable it currently is, and what work still needs to be done.
“We are moving into a truly transformational period of information revolution,” writes Dr Pragya Agarwal in her book SWAY: Unravelling Unconscious Bias. ”A hypothetical future where technological growth will become uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilisation.” Agarwal goes on to describe how, for many scientists and philosophers, that time has already arrived.
With great power comes great responsibility
An industry able to, as Agarwal puts it, ”infiltrate the fabric of human society in a way akin to life-sustaining dependence” must benefit society as a whole and often we assume that technology, with its emotionless algorithms and data sets must be objective. But it isn’t.
In 2019 the U.S. government released a report that described a study where 189 facial recognition algorithms from high profile developers were tested with the overarching finding being that the software was ten to one hundred times worse at recognising Black and Asian faces compared to white ones. Agarwal adds that when she searches the term ‘accountant’ she finds images of white men in suits. ”To find more diverse images, it is necessary to qualify search terms with ‘black accountant’ or ’female accountant’.”
Technology has the potential to be an incredible tool for empowerment but systems developed by people are imprinted with the biases of their makers—both conscious and subconscious—transplanting existing stereotypes and privileges into the digital world. In a society where life online and life offline have blended to the point of no return, this is a major issue. We don’t want tech to exacerbate our problems, we want it to help solve them.
The current picture
“Recent studies found only 18 percent of authors at leading AI conferences are women and more than 80 percent of AI professors are men”, notes Agarwal. “Women comprise only 15 percent of AI research staff at Facebook and 10 percent at Google. There is no public data on trans workers or other gender minorities. Only 2.5 percent of Google’s workforce is black, while Facebook and Microsoft are each at 4 percent.”
Here in Aotearoa, a collaborative report by NZ Tech, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment published in January 2021 stated that only 4% of tech workers are Māori, 2.8% are Pasifika and 27% identify as female.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
The solution is to diversify tech teams across the globe but delivering on the mantra of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through pushing for more people in STEM who are outside of the Silicon Valley stereotype of rich, white mogul has been a common industry-wide KPI for some time. While more women are getting qualified in these areas, the number of women who actually stay in STEM has mostly stayed the same with the female quit rate being almost twice as high as males. Why? A lack of mentors and role models, unequal growth opportunities, the gender pay gap and derogatory behaviour—in the UK 49% of women in STEM have experienced some form of workplace discrimination. In some studies this percentage is much higher. In all studies it’s a tragic statistic.
More diverse senior management teams boost profits considerably. In fact, ACS Australia estimates that diversifying IT could bring an additional AU$1.2 billion over the next 20 years as well as 14,000 FTE roles every year.
Putting in the mahi
Mission Ready is committed to making tech an industry that better represents the diverse world we live in. In fact, we’re on a social impact mission to reduce the tech skills gap and increase diversity and inclusion in tech through education, awareness and accessibility initiatives, leaving no one behind. 43% of our candidates identify as women, and we offer $335,000 worth of scholarships for Māori and Pasifika candidates and for career changers facing financial hardship. Later in 2023 we’ll be launching ‘Mission Technius’ a tool designed to help future talent discover their superpowers and unlock their future tech talent.
Looking to truly diversify your tech team? Contact us to gain access to our Hot List of Mission Ready graduates.
Image credit: Mikhail Nilov.