International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements and aims for a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.
The importance of IWD
International Women’s Day has become a platform for women to raise concerns relating to gender inequality and empowering women and girls. It seeks to raise awareness on gender inequalities as well as celebrating women’s achievements and progress.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day as set out by the UN, 8 March 2023 (IWD 2023) is, ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. The aim of the theme is to recognise and celebrate the contributions by women and girls towards technology and online education. The UN Observance of IWD recognises and celebrates the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education. It will involve exploring the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities. Women make up less than one-third of the STEM workforce and are severely underrepresented in the STEM field in a male-dominated industry. Although we strive to create a world which is diverse and inclusive, there needs to be an attitudinal shift that gender equity is paramount to achieve this.
Awareness needs to be supported by action
Research by Engineering UK has found that 73% of 11-14-year-olds do not know what engineers do, which suggests a contributory factor for the shortages in STEM roles. This means that we need more diverse role models to inspire a wider pool of talent.
Change starts at the top and organisations’ management teams should firstly be ensuring that examples of gender equity are being set. For example, this could involve encouraging more women to pursue a career in the STEM industry or striving to have more females in management roles. It is visible, diverse female role models, rather than historical figures, which will encourage gender equality.
In addition to this, if stereotypes are going to be challenged, educators, businesses and individual mindsets must be broadened regarding women’s participation in and contribution to innovation. From the earlier stages in education, there should be encouragement of coding and tech-related activities for girls and more female role models and mentors. In the workplace, it is key that organisations provide more flexible working for women, such as programmes to support women returners or better family-friendly policies, and monitor equality. If organisations are seeking to make pledges to aspire for gender equality, they should be sharing their diversity, equality and inclusion targets and steps being taken to meet those targets with their workforce.
Addressing AI-driven discrimination
We are witnessing the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), where such algorithms can reflect human bias. AI has quickly established itself in people’s everyday lives and as the usage of such technology grows, it is important to tackle unfairness in these systems and the impact they have on the world.
An AI model is trained and tested by existing data which means that it will often reflect bias that is already present. Sophia Ignatidou, who works as Group Manager for AI and Data Science at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) states, “If AI-driven discrimination is left unaddressed, we could end up shutting out the very people who are best placed to challenge it”. This means that anyone working with AI, from researchers to developers, engineers and data scientists must make it a priority to address this problem.
One of the key priorities of the ICO is to tackle AI-driven discrimination and as well as investigating concerns about the potential risks posed by the technology, the ICO has issued guidance and practical toolkits to educate AI developers on ensuring their algorithms treat people and their information fairly.
Overall, the key message here is in order to break down such gender-based discrimination, it is important that all genders are represented.