This week is National Inclusion Week, an annual UK event promoting inclusion, diversity and equality in the workplace.
The technology industry has had a long and well-documented problem with diversity, and while things have improved in recent years, there is still a long way to go.
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Reflecting that is a recent global survey by Ivanti, which found that 63% of women working in technology feel they are not being taken seriously.
And when UK companies published their gender pay gaps in May, it revealed a notable gap between the median pay of men and women across technology companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google.
The problem extends beyond gender. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Comission, 83% of tech executives are white.
To mark National Inclusion Week, Verdict spoke with three leading technology experts on the board of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics to find out about the current state of inclusion in tech, why it’s so important and how it can be changed.
Aimee van Wynsberghe, assistant professor of ethics and robots at Delft University of Technology:
“Technology has always been a source of power; it can be used to give voice to underrepresented groups but it can also silence vulnerable demographics. To mitigate potential threats of technology, a diverse group of opinions are needed through the research, development, implementation, and regulation of tech.
“This diversity comes from the inclusion of multiple vantage points as a central component of innovation: life experiences, sexual orientations, gender, skin colour, and living situations in general. One can call this inclusive innovation and its overarching goal is to account for the variety of human lives that will use or be impacted by a technology.
“The promotion of diversity requires a commitment to inclusion. Funding instruments, academic institutions, and companies alike need to show their commitment to diversity, and inclusion, through their funding schemes, hiring and work practices. Only through inclusion can we break the barriers set by a lack of diversity in the innovation space.”
Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of AI and robotics at the University of Sheffield:
“Over the last 50 years, I have seen our diversity norms evolve towards greater and greater gender and race equality. But it is not time yet to rest on our laurels. We still have a long way to go to achieve parity.
“One of the big problems is that the old traditional unfair values are still there locked into the internet. This means that much of the data used in machine learning are creating biases in unpredictable and non-transparent ways.
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“Many cracks are now appearing the rapidly accelerating commercial and institutional application of AI techniques. So-called decision algorithms are showing strong and increasing signs of bias towards ethnic minorities and women.
“While there is no silver bullet to stop these ails in our societal structures, it is alarmingly clear that we need to build vastly more inclusivity into our tech industries. This would be a strong first step on the path towards achieving genuine social justice and equality.”
Shannon Vallor, professor and philosopher of technology at Santa Clara University:
“Technology is an increasingly potent source of power, and in a just society, power must be shared. This creates an ethical imperative for technologists to not merely consult, but also to include and embody, the voices and perspectives of those whose lives are shaped by technology’s power.
“Technology does not impact us all equally; some of us receive more than our share of its benefits and others bear more of its risk.
Today, the groups who bear the greatest risk and receive the smallest share of technology’s benefits are also the least empowered to participate in its development and influence its design. That needs to change.”