Agnieszka Nałęcz-Frydrych

Senior Systems Designer

Don’t Be Like AI : Why We Need More Women in Tech Companies

Searching through hundreds of CVs for the best candidate is hard and time-consuming. This is particularly true at Amazon, which employs over half a million people.  So the company invested in an Artificial Intelligence (AI) project running on an artificial neural network, hoping it would help them cope with the task.

Artificial neural networks are designed to mimic the learning processes in the human brain. Amazon trained its application using historical CVs and information about which previous candidates were rejected and which were hired. In theory, this seems to be a recipe for success, but it very soon led to failure. The program appeared to be sexist.

It persistently kept rejecting female candidates. To remedy this, corrected data that did not account for the candidate's gender was fed into the network. The neural network quickly overcame this, learning to guess gender based on other CV information. And it continued to reject women.

Entrenching the Status Quo

One of the main purposes of an artificial neural network is to identify regularities in data – classifying, making associations, drawing conclusions and finding patterns. Yet, algorithms like neural networks may skip certain data areas or use generalizations at the beginning of the calculation to get a faster result. If a certain result is rarely obtained from one type of data, the network may learn to ignore that data. In the Amazon project, the network immediately "noticed" that the majority of successful candidates were men. To simplify the process, it cut off the remaining group of candidates at the outset, focusing on those that the historical data showed were traditionally more likely to be hired. 

Changing the input data and correcting the AI system’s parameters did not change the fact that the algorithm consistently continued to favor men. As a result, Amazon shut down the program.

The problem with this algorithm wasn’t just the PR crisis it caused. If tech companies do not employ women, they deprive their team of essential qualities and viewpoints. Let’s see why.

A Diverse Team Is an Effective Team

There are more women working in technology than you might think. In the United States and Europe, women constitute about 19% of the tech workforce. If you automatically reject female applicants, one-fifth of your team's available potential is wasted.

In recent years, there’s been a trend toward equal employment opportunities for all genders.  However, in technological roles this trend is actually reversed, with fewer women becoming involved in tech.  This reinforces the stereotype of tech being a man’s domain. But research shows that gender-diverse teams are more creative and deliver higher business value.  Recruiting women for tech jobs not only replenishes the pool of qualified staff, it also enhances the quality of teams’ work.

"Teams which lack diversity are reluctant to innovate. That should provide the ultimate argument for encouraging diversity. The pace of change around us is so hectic (and bound to keep growing) that acting on yesterday's rules runs a serious risk of a market flop.  To identify and understand the dynamics – as well as to build a competitive advantage, regardless of whether we compete for a client or an employee – we need a wide perspective.  That’s why teams [with people from] various backgrounds, educational paths, and genders are best equipped to hear the voice of the environment, to communicate effectively, and to generate the best ideas. Diversity is a prerequisite for true conversation. Companies without women are like a world without women – they will not last long".

Agata Mazurkiewicz-Bąk

Mentoring Director of Technology in a Skirt Association, Chief Buyer at Veolia Group

Are Women Better at Successfully Leading Projects?

Research by Gallup International found that, statistically speaking, women are better at building and maintaining relationships than men; this research was gathered from 14 million people worldwide. These relationship-oriented skills can directly translate into a better understanding of customer needs and a stronger team bond. An article published on the website BBN Times quoted a study that showed women usually are better at planning, analysis, and problem-solving. Research also proves that mixed-gender teams show greater efficiency, better decision-making, and better performance.

"Technology is gaining momentum and growing in many directions; it’s also becoming more demanding.  It craves fresh ideas.  Diverse teams, including gender-diverse teams, mean a wider range of competencies, more creative ideas and out-of-the-box reactions to tech’s rapid growth. Besides, in strictly mathematical terms, the IT sector suffers from a shortage of employees. So why not reach out to untapped resources and hire more women?"

Anna Szwiec

Software Developer/ Women in Technology Kraków

Among management positions, only 20% are occupied by women. Can we assume that women are less able managers than men? Research proves it may be the other way round. Teams managed by women are more innovative, more committed,  and achieve better results. Companies run by women are more likely to outperform competitors. All of these facts make equally promoting women to management positions a highly-recommended idea.

Tech Companies:  Don’t Be Like AI

Artificial neural networks try to mimic the structure and processes of the human brain. This means that spotting patterns and simplifying reality is also a characteristic, or maybe a deficiency, that affects all of us.  Generalization constrains us more than we realize – it is the brain’s natural reaction to an overabundance of information.

Stereotyping and formulaic thinking patterns change the brain structure and the structures of artificial neuron networks.  What’s worse, they are difficult to identify and correct by ourselves. Additionally, if decisions are based solely on historical data, as in the above-described case, we’ll never introduce any changes to our environment. By not remaining open to new solutions, including team solutions, we run a heavy risk of falling behind the competition. Building a good team takes effort. It is worth looking at another human being with open eyes that see their unique talents rather than taking the mental shortcuts of generalization and stereotype.  Nourishing diversity will enrich your team, your company, and your life.