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Having female AI decision-makers is a priority for 37% of UK business leaders

Research from IBM reveals almost 40% of UK business leaders think getting women into decision-making positions is increasingly important in the era of artificial intelligence

Ensuring women are in decision-making positions is a top priority for many as artificial intelligence (AI) begins to dominate the business landscape, according to research from IBM.

When it asked thousands of business leaders from more than eight countries about female decision-makers for its UK female leadership in the age of AI report, the tech giant found 37% of UK respondents said they were working to increase the number of women in top roles in their organisations.

The reason behind this lies in the need to create a fair society as AI becomes a normal part of everyone’s lives. Almost three-quarters of the business leaders questioned considered it important to ensure more leaders are female to prevent bias in AI development and ensure all parts of society are able to benefit from its adoption.

Nicola Hodson, chief executive of IBM UK & Ireland, said in the report: “Amidst the rush to embrace the exciting possibilities of this technology, business leaders must consider human needs, and design a trustworthy, human-centric AI system – with governance at its core – that is aligned with the values and principles of the society or community it serves.

“Ensuring that diverse teams develop and deploy AI makes the output of those systems more likely to represent all parts of society and limit bias.”

Since the conversation around AI began, there have been concerns over possible biases that can be introduced into the technology if fed inappropriate datasets.

Ensuring that diverse teams develop and deploy AI makes the output of those systems more likely to represent all parts of society and limit bias
Nicola Hodson, IBM UK & Ireland

If the people developing technologies such as AI do not reflect the wider population using them, bias is more likely to exist, making it important to ensure that the tech workforce, and those making decisions about how technology is used within companies, is as diverse as the people using it.

According to IBM’s findings, UK business leaders see ensuring women reach more senior positions in organisations as the best way to make sure AI is developed with equality in mind. Some 69% of UK business leaders said having more women in decision-making roles would ensure the benefits of AI are more evenly felt across the economy and society, and would help to reduce gender bias in AI development.

But the 37% of UK businesses that view getting women into leadership roles as a priority was the lowest figure among the markets IBM surveyed across EMEA, with the average being 51% across the region.

Just over 32% of business leaders said they already employ a woman in a position with decision-making power around AI, and while many stated that their firms are doing what they can to increase diversity, more than half said it was not a formal priority.

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Managers were divided on what they think is standing in the way of tech industry diversity and inclusion (D&I), with 21% saying it’s because of a lack of women in the C-suite, 20% saying it’s because companies aren’t fully invested in D&I initiatives, and 28% putting it down to a lack of digital education in schools.

Over a third of business leaders highlighted mentorship as a way of encouraging women to get involved in the AI landscape, along with making it easier to improve skills and boosting the number of women in middle-management positions.

With almost 80% of UK leaders claiming their company already has, or is planning to, use generative AI over the next year, failing to prioritise D&I is standing in the way of progress.

IBM’s tips for increasing the number of female AI leaders

When it comes to making sure more women are willing and able to play a key, decision-making role in the development and deployment of AI, as well as running businesses as AI becomes more prolific in the workplace, IBM made the following suggestions:

  • Actively ensure women are being promoted into C-suite positions, and use measurements such as goals and metrics surrounding the number of women in these roles to create accountability for pushing for these goals.
  • Use mentorship programmes to help female leaders, including offering the opportunity to network with others like them.
  • Set aside provision for reskilling the workforce to be ready for AI and automation across the whole business.
  • Give leaders training and development to diversify the skills of those in charge of making decisions.
  • Work to break down the barriers preventing more diverse candidates from entering the tech workforce across the entire pipeline – including at school.

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