Only 22 percent of artificial intelligence professionals globally are female. This is according to the recent World Economic Forum report on the Global Gender Gap, which also found that current trajectories mean sub-Saharan Africa will only close its gender gap in 135 years.
As technology like AI and machine learning continue to re-shape the way we work, this outlook is worrying. These technologies depend on data and patterns to learn and adapt. If developed by only a portion of the population, data will be biased, innovation won’t be inclusive, and these technologies will continue to perpetuate existing inequalties.
It’s for this reason that Microsoft, as a technology company, focuses on building a workforce that is diverse and inclusive. In the last two months, our Kenya operations in particular have taken important steps to create a culture where more women are attracted to careers in technology.
In May, Microsoft launched its first Africa Development Centre (ADC), with an initial site in Nairobi, Kenya. Here, female engineers like Cynthia Abura are already hard at work developing around AI, machine learning and mixed reality.
That same week, Microsoft, through its 4Afrika Initiative, entered into a new collaboration with Strathmore University, to extend the Women in Software Engineering (WISE) Mentoring Programme into Africa. WISE4Afrika is a manifestation of Mentors across Borders, an initiative pioneered by women tech leaders at the Microsoft India Development Centre and Microsoft Kenya.
WISE aims to inspire women in software and engineering to pursue rewarding careers in technology, by equipping them with the learning, tools and readiness for growth, innovation and social change. 30 students are currently receiving coaching from fellow female engineers and executives at Microsoft. We’re encouraging them to use new-age technologies, like AI, to build solutions and publish them on app stores, contribute to open source, participate in hackathons, and submit proposals for papers and posters at conferences. In addition, we’re touching on soft skills, including how to adopt a growth and CEO mindset.
As a woman in the technology industry – and a programme lead for WISE4Afrika – I’m particularly passionate about and proud of this project. Growing up as a woman in Kenya, there was a lack of female role models within ICT for me to engage with and learn from. Today, that landscape is changing dramatically. MySkills4Afrika – another Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative – for example, has also seen international Microsoft employees volunteer their time to support women in Africa. Perhaps my favourite example is Mirianis Rodriguez, Head of Microsoft’s Global Internship Programme, who continues to mentor women-led enterprises through the Trade & impact Forum in Morocco.
While WISE is currently running at a single university, we hope to follow an approach of starting small to succeed, learning, improving and then scaling. The women in these programmes are all enthusiastic and talented. We’re excited for what they’re bringing to the world of technology, and the role they will play in unlocking economic opportunities that truly benefit us all.