It Will Take More Than 45 Years To Achieve Gender Parity In Ai Research

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AI is the future, but… just 12% of machine learning researchers are women – a worrying statistic for a field supposedly reshaping society.

Tom Simonite

We should worry more because in the best case scenario, that gap will not close for at least another 45 years.

Anchors

In my article The Gender Imbalance in Tech, I compare gender representation of women in tech to other fields such as medicine and law to show how stark the underrepresentation is. All data is based on United States statistics.

The first woman in each of these areas:

  • MEDICINE: MD was 1849 (Elizabeth Blackwell)
    • University of Pennsylvania was established in 1791
  • LAW: passed bar in 1869 (Arabella Mansfield); attendance at law school was not common
    • Harvard Law School founded in 1917
    • William and Mary Law School opened in 1779, but closed during Civil War (1861) and reopened in 1920
    • 1738: first bar exam created in Delaware
  • COMPUTER SCIENCE: CS PhD was ~ 1965 (Sister Mary Kenneth Keller / Irving Tang)

United States Legislation

Since 1965 was a critical year for women in computer science to make notable advances, I also examined the US laws during that time period:

  • 1964: Civil Rights Act
  • 1965: Title VII (employment)
  • 1968: Title VIII (fair housing)
  • 1972: Title IX (education): a civil rights law that amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 and prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.

Gender Parity Achievements

These are the years where gender parity was achieved with respect to graduate rates:

  • Medical school: ~ 1999
  • Law school: ~ 1999
  • Computer science PhDs: [not yet in 2019] (when: ?)

Not A Monotonically Increasing Function

In about 1984, women earned ~ 37% of bachelor’s degree, but by 2015 that number has decreased to 18%. In 2017 it was estimated to be 24%.

Women earned 18% of PhDs in computer science in 2014. It is estimated that 15% of ACM membership is female.

With women in tech leaving at high rates, that is another factor affecting the trajectory of women in computer science.

Other Factors

Girls Who Code mission is to close the gender gap and they support girls before college level.

Time to Gender Parity

  • In medicine, it took 150 years from the time first woman graduated medical school to when enrollments went to 50/50.
  • In law, it took about 130 years from the time of the first female lawyer to laws schools achieving gender parity.
  • With computer science, if the first CS PhD was in 1965, only about 55 years previously, it seems the road is long to achieving gender parity. If it were to take 100 years, that would bring us to 2065. If it is 150 years, that would bring us to the year 2115.

Prediction

My prediction is that gender parity in CS PhDs will be achieved after 2065. And equal representation by women in AI research will be decades after that. If I am incorrect, I would be happy to issue a retraction if I am around.

References

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