CES dubs itself “the most influential tech event in the world” and that may be true with over 3,000 exhibitors and 173 countries represented at CES 2023 alone. This year one focus of the convention's tech savvy headliners was the importance of the inclusion of women and non-binary individuals into STEM careers to benefit future technologies.
Alice Xiang, Head of Sony Group's AI Ethics Office and AI Lead Research Scientist, spoke to Yahoo Finance in collaboration with Built By Girls about the importance of diversity in the room when creating products of the future like artificial intelligence (AI).
“First I would say please do enter this field. It's extremely not diverse at the moment and that's a huge issue when we think about addressing issues like systemic bias in AI,” said Xiang. “It does start at the point with who is actually in the room when you’re talking about developing an AI product and that set of people needs to be diverse. We need a wide variety of perspectives.”
According to the Pew Research Center Americans are supportive of gender diversity in the workplace, with about half of U.S. adults (52%) characterizing it as “extremely” or “very” important and 26% saying it is “somewhat” important.
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly, explained to Yahoo Finance and our Built By Girls audience that it is crucial to close the gender gap.
“All of the cybersecurity industry I think has to be 50% women or non-binary people by the year 2030. Now that's aspirational, but I think it's a goal we can all get behind. We can actually make it happen. Now how do we do it? First of all, we have to start with the youngest among us,” said Director Easterly. “We have to make sure that cybersecurity is integrated into the curriculum from kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade so that early on we are getting people who wouldn't think about tech because it sounds scary and complicated, more interested in technology and cybersecurity. Again from the youngest of ages it also helps our kids be more cybersafe because even as they play on all their devices they are thinking about ‘okay what do I need to do to insure that I’m safe from all the bad actors that are out there.’ So that's hugely important.”
The good news is help is on the way, as research shows more women are majoring in STEM fields. According to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), women represented 45% of students majoring in STEM fields in 2020, up from 40% in 2010 and 34% in 1994.
Furthermore, in the summer of 2022 the Research Science Institute (RSI), the most prestigious summer STEM program for high school students, reported that female students outnumbered male students for the first time, representing 55% of accepted U.S. students, up from 22% in 1984.
“It's why I spend a lot of time trying to inspire and inform young women about how great it is to be in cybersecurity as a career” said Director Easterly on the idea of transforming the current makeup of the gender workforce within the cybersecurity industry. “It’s a tough goal because I think we're about 24% (of total workforce) now but you have to aim high.”
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in STEM fields there’s plenty of opportunities. Do not feel that you need a specific educational path or major in order to have a career in STEM.
“What we really need is more folks with a strong interdisciplinary background who can understand multiple fields and think about how new technologies might be able to interact with humans and society in ways that might produce intended or unintended consequences,” said Xiang, who is trained as a lawyer and a statistician. “I think it's a really exciting space for young women and everyone else and I really hope that more people enter this field and we see a diverse set of researchers and developers in the future.”