Why bringing more women into tech will help solve human bias in our algorithms

From our Lead Data Science Instructor, Idoia Martí

With our mission of bringing more women into tech, it wouldn’t be allWomen’s week if we didn’t take a look at the state of women in technology!

We know we talk a lot about the importance of bringing more women into tech disciplines, but have you looked at the numbers recently? We’re still in a world where ⅔ of females don’t even consider working in tech.

It’s no surprise, then, that only 20% of graduates in science and tech studies are female. Meaning, if we’re lucky, 1 out of 5 jobs in tech will be held by a woman. Plus, women are actually the most affected by job loss due to the pandemic. And this is while the number of jobs in tech sectors is growing exponentially.

So aside from the fact that women deserve to be professionally fulfilled, challenged, and rewarded within tech disciplines like their male counterparts, why else does this really matter?

Because when it comes time for technology companies to hire new recruits, there are less women and particularly women of color to add to their tech teams. This means that while companies build solutions from a skewed perspective, what they’re really doing is creating biased algorithms that affect all of the people who use them. 

The current state of biased algorithms

We use technology every day to improve our efficiency, quality of life, and knowledge, and I think we can all agree that this technology makes a positive impact in a number of ways. But it’s created by people who live under our society’s rules, cultures, and human bias. Meaning that the technology that they create, while providing a solution to a problem, could unintentionally be creating new problems.

Let’s take Google, for example. 

Search engines are an amazing invention, using powerful data technology to provide the best information in a moment’s notice. But there are some dangers in creating algorithms of this nature, as human bias is easily programmed directly into its DNA. 

This can be seen even with simple search queries like typing “nurse” or “CEO” into Google and seeing the overt gender bias that’s built into our technology. Because we live in a prejudice society with internalized biases unconsciously informing our choices, the output will be biased too. But what does this really mean?

Many have argued that search engines are biased because the people who make searches on them are sexist or racist, and the algorithms are simply showing them what they’re most likely to click on. But in her book “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism,” Safiya U. Noble argues that the bias also comes from the people who design the technology.

This is because Google is also working to appease advertisers, meaning that their sole focus isn’t always on giving the most accurate and unbiased information. So while the designers worked on building the Google algorithm, they were funneling this influence directly into their solution. 

And if this is happening at Google, you know that no technology is safe. 

Even Instagram’s algorithms have been shown to be biased against women of color by not showing their content in the same way that they would with content from white users. 

But if there were more women of color helping to build these technologies, do we think this problem would have gone undetected for so long? It’s because of the lack of diversity that these issues exist in the first place. 

And the solution is bringing more women, particularly women of color, into the room. With this change, we’ll start to see these problems being addressed before they’re built into the technology that we use every day, causing more damage in the process. 

More diversity equals more diverse technology

Working as a Data Science instructor at a tech school for women, I have the pleasure of seeing the amazing ideas and projects that our students choose to bring to the table during their coursework. 

Their soft, professional, and personal skills merge perfectly with the concepts learned during the course, enabling them to discover powerful insights and projects that really contribute to balancing the bias. Many of these data studies are built specifically to look at issues related to the female experience, something that hasn’t been explored as extensively in our biased world. 

And one thing that I can say for sure is that the more diversity that we encourage within technology, the better technology we’ll see coming out in the future. The kind that takes into consideration a larger body of people with different needs and perspectives. 

Our technology, for so long, has been built for certain types of people – because those were the people who were building it. Their personal perspective was the only thing they could bring to the algorithms because it was the only perspective that they had in the room. And this is what needs to change. 

It’s our responsibility to create better, more diverse technology and that starts with making space for more diverse data scientists, web developers, UX designers, engineers, and product managers. Only when more women, people of color, and people from the LGBTQ community are able to contribute to our technological landscape will we see solutions that are made for and by everyone. 

I’m lucky enough to get to work towards this goal every day in my job at allWomen. And it is so inspiring to see badass women working to change the future of technology that it makes me confident for the possibilities to come. 

It will take a consistent effort in empowering women and encouraging them to break through the stereotypical reasons why they shouldn’t enter the tech force. But by building communities, sharing our experiences, and creating supportive spaces that help women to thrive, I truly believe that we can shape the future of tech together!

Idoia is the Lead Data Science Instructor at allWomen. Come study data with her at our tech academy for women!

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