Women in artificial intelligence: what’s it like to be a woman who builds machines?

There are few women in artificial intelligence. In fact, according to Fortune, only 10% of all ground-floor artificial intelligence (AI) jobs are filled by women. This is startling when you consider that AI is the fastest-growing field in the world and could have a huge impact on the direction our society takes. What’s going on here? Is this just another typical issue women face with venturing into a field that is predominantly populated by men? Or is there more of a story there?

What is it like to be a woman in A.I.? The field of artificial intelligence has been plagued by a lack of diversity: only 14% of attendees at the 2016 A.I. summit were women, for example. But the problem is not that women aren’t entering the field — we just aren’t staying. Of the women who started graduate programs in computer science or engineering from 2004 to 2013, 60% had left their programs or made plans to leave within six years, according to research from Google and Carnegie Mellon University. For many women, this career path just doesn’t seem inviting. In a survey commissioned by Google, 48% of respondents said they had experienced an unwanted sexual advance, and 25% had received an explicit or implicit offer of sex for career advancement. When asked why they believe women leave A.I., 57% of respondents said “brogrammer culture.” These numbers are especially disappointing because artificial intelligence is so critical to our future — AI will be responsible for anywhere from $3 billion to $5 trillion in annual economic growth by 2025, according to McKinsey Global Institute estimates . And it’s not just about creating new business opportunities; AI can help solve some of the world’s biggest problems, including climate change and disease control.

If you are a woman and can code, you may be contacted by recruiters from big tech companies – such as those featured in our guide to the best places to work for women in tech. A recent survey of women in the technology industry found that two-thirds had received inappropriate sexual advances, with most of those advances coming from someone in a position of power. However, despite these experiences, many women were optimistic about the future of women and technology. “The technology industry is really changing,” said Mary Theofanos, a software engineer at Google, who spoke at an event hosted by Women Who Code in San Francisco. “We’re starting to see more diversity in companies and we’re more aware of unconscious bias.” Women Who Code’s Global Developer Survey revealed that while only 11% of the responding women worked at large tech companies with more than 10,000 employees – such as Apple, Google or Facebook – they were optimistic about their opportunities for advancement. Only 3% said they would not recommend working at a large company to other female engineers. What do companies say it’s like to recruit and retain women? Facebook hires both men and women into its engineering teams but has a special programme called Women@Facebook that helps improve gender balance across the company by

What are the unique challenges that women face? There’s a prevailing notion that there are “two types” of women in tech: those who are the nerdy type and those who were beautiful. Frankly, both of these stereotypes are really harmful to women in technology because they reinforce our social idea that women can’t be both beautiful and smart. We need to do away with this stereotype if we want to change the world. This is hard work, but I’d like to tackle it by talking about my own experiences trying to make a career in artificial intelligence (AI). I believe that many of the challenges for women in this field can be addressed through open discussion and an honest assessment of the state of affairs in the AI industry today.

What these women have in common is that they have enough grit, passion and perseverance to keep pushing forward like a tank. I hope this inspires women who are thinking of going into a technical role but have been discouraged by others or have doubts in themselves. Also, I hope it will encourage women to become proactive, make an effort to seek out and support other women, especially those thinking of working in the AI field.