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7 Unexpected Trends About Representation of Women In the Cloud and AI Industry

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There’s been a lot of negative press about the direction of female representation in tech — but is the situation really so dire? The Women in Cloud team investigated some of these trends, focusing on the positive and negative sides, so we could identify real opportunities for change (such as a destination like female role models in STEM, which inspires young women to pursue math). Here’s what we found.

1. Getting Women into C-Suite and Executive Roles

The Bad News: From 1995 to 2018, the percentage of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies has risen from zero to 4.8%. Unfortunately, that number is down from 6.4% in 2017, and a McKinsey report found that men in executive roles are still more highly compensated than women. So, while there has been some growth on a longer timescale, we still have plenty to figure out.

The Good News: While significantly fewer businesses are run by women, those that are have experienced a lot of success. One study found that Fortune 500s with at least three women leaders saw a 66% return on investment (ROI). That means the numbers are on the side of representation.

How We Can Fix It: Data is king in the business world, and now the data is out showing that women leaders can help businesses perform better. At Women In Cloud, we’re dedicated to increasing female representation in executive positions through community partnerships. That’s why we founded our Signature Events, where over 1000 women a year share their voices, become advisors, and create access for others.

2. Boosting Female Innovation in Cloud & AI

The Bad News: Innovation, as it’s reflected in patents, is also a male-dominated space. In a Center for Global Development study, researchers found that only 8% of all patents have women as primary inventors. Take that in conjunction with a GEM 2019 report that found women in tech innovate less than women in other sectors, like retail or wholesale.

The Good News: On the other hand, a study by UKIPO found the number of patents associated with women inventors (but not as primary inventors) increased to 31% by 2017. This rise is backed up by Scientific America’s finding that female patent holders increased 18% from 2008 to 2017.

How We Can Fix It: It’s well known that having women on corporate boards leads to new consumers and new ideas, so maybe it’s time to increase the presence of women in the development of technology solutions. Women in Cloud is hard at work making this a reality with programs like AISolution2030, #CloudInnovateHER, Digital Academy, innovation grants, and design workshops. We even partnered with Microsoft to represent WiC women entrepreneurs in the UN’s Buildfor2030 campaign. 

3. Funding Women Tech Founders

The Bad News: Global venture funding to startups founded by women decreased by 27% in 2020, which some analysts think is just another way that COVID-19 disproportionately affected women. That’s according to Crunchbase, which also reports that less than 2% of women-owned businesses ever surpass $1 million in revenue, a whopping 3.5 times less than businesses owned by men.

The Good News: Despite a lack of funding, a Kauffman Foundation study found that private tech companies run by women achieve 35% higher ROI, and when they’re venture-funded, 12% higher revenue than startups run by men. On a similar note, female-founded companies outperformed companies founded by men by 63% in First Round Capital’s portfolio.

What We Can Do: Investors want to back companies that will succeed, and the data shows that female-founded startups tend to have better ROIs. That’s why Women in Cloud has launched the WiC Microsoft Cloud Accelerator, a 6-month program that assists women-led tech companies in cooperation with Microsoft and its distribution channels.

4. Allocating to Female-led Companies

The Bad News: The Congressional Research Service launched a program to support women-owned small businesses, which is great. But here are two of the statistics they cited concerning why the program is necessary: only 3% of corporate procurement dollars and 5% of federal contracts go to women-owned firms.

The Good News: The data is on the side of diverse allocation. A study by the Hackett Group found that companies allocating at least 20% of their spend to diverse suppliers end up attributing 10% to 15% of their annual sales to supplier diversity programs.  Those who contribute less than 20% attribute under 5% of their sales to the program. It turns out, investing in diversity pays.

What We Can Do: If companies doubled their supplier diversity allocation (without increasing spend), they could collectively generate $1 billion in revenue for women entrepreneurs. At Women in Cloud, we just rolled out a WiC Fortune 100 initiative to do just that — encouraging top companies to solve gender equity through representation, recruitment, and relationship building. To make this possible, we’ve joined forces with Microsoft, Insight, Accenture, Hitachi, Teradata, Boeing, and Global Air Canada.

5. Solving Women-in-Tech Job Displacement

The Bad News: COVID-19 resulted in the unemployment of more than 2.2 million women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they estimate that AI will eliminate more than 180 million women-held jobs over the next two decades. 

The Good News: We all know that COVID-19 shook up workplace norms, but it also highlighted a gap in employee technical skills. This led to many companies offering upskilling programs as a way to invest in their employees. According to PwC’s Global Digital IQ survey, 86% of top-performing companies experienced increases in employee engagement and performance due to digital training.

What We Can Do: We now know that investing in digital upskilling can help employees expand their career opportunities — why not roll out these programs to address women facing job displacement? Women in Cloud has partnered with Microsoft and Coursera to create the Azure Training and Certification Scholarships to help women expand their skill sets and thrive in the current market.

6. Accelerating Women in AI

The Bad News: According to the World Economic Forum, only 13.8% of AI research papers are authored by women, and less than 25% of women are considered AI professionals compared to 78% of men. Moreover, Gartner predicts that 85% of AI projects will deliver erroneous outcomes due to bias in algorithms, data analysis, or interpretations by teams. It’s becoming clear that, without a diverse workforce, bias will creep into projects.

The Good News: On the bright side, PwC believes, by 2030, AI will lead to a 26% increase in GDP. The researchers predict 40% of this increase will result from productivity while consumption will drive the remaining 60%. A Deloitte survey highlights that the majority of AI professionals believe women will increase the accuracy and success of AI projects. 

What We Can Do: It’s clear that AI will play a big part in the future, so now is the time to push for inclusion. AI professionals recognize that bias within AI algorithms is a tremendous challenge that must be overcome by mandates, ethical decision-making, and diverse teams creating representational AI projects. That’s why Women in Cloud established the #AIEthics Coalition to research and identify policies that address inequities in AI — before being rolled out to the public.

7. Making the Workforce more Diverse and Inclusive

The Bad News: According to Accenture, the number of women who completed computer science degrees has fallen from 37% in 1984 to 18% today. This brings us to the skill gap problem; the World Economic Forum estimates that around 40% of companies require reskilling for up to six months, and that 94% of business leaders expect employees to learn new skills on the job. These trends are fueling the already dire global gender gap, which some analysts predict will take nearly a century to close.

The Good News: Thankfully, the technology industry has been making an effort to advance women, who made up nearly 30% of all entry-level positions in 2019. Better yet, in 2019, 13.2% of women were promoted compared to 12.1% of men. A Microsoft survey even found that female role models in STEM boosted the interest of girls by 32% to 52%.

What We Can Do: Cloud and AI technology are powering leadership representation in all industries — and the ability to work from home has let women advance their careers while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This trend could increase the presence of women in tech. That’s why Women in Cloud is working with Fortune Brands on the #CloudJobs Recruitment Initiative, which advances women leadership through scholarships, programming, and recruitment funnels.

Putting it all Together

While there’s a lot that needs to be done to make cloud and AI representational, we can’t lose sight of how far we’ve come. As Melinda French Gates pointed out in the foreword to a recent article, it’s up to all of us to achieve gender equality. And right now, we can be part of the solution by focusing on women in recovery efforts. McKinsey estimates that this could grow the GDP by 16% by 2030 — because when women thrive, so do their families and communities.

We can’t ignore systemic issues that disadvantage women in cloud and AI, but women should remember that there are so many great opportunities available to join these exciting fields — and help improve access for other women from the inside.

Here at Women in Cloud, we’re always looking for ways to address these challenges. We bridge these gaps by leaning on our community, offering accelerator programs, and recommending policies that help women thrive. 

If you’re interested in joining WiC’s economic access movement, here’s how you can get involved:

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