Diversity in AI


Margaret Laffan


March 12, 2020

It has been well documented that there is a diversity crisis in AI. Earlier this year, Fortune wrote about a study completed by AI Now, a research group at New York University, on AI’s diversity crisis. The report revealed that a lack of diversity among the people who create AI and in the data they use to train it has caused huge shortcomings in the technology. We see this especially in the recent case regarding Apple Card, with its credit decision algorithm that discriminates against women. Some stats from the AI Now report demonstrate that “80% of university professors who specialize in A.I. are men, & at leading A.I. companies like Facebook, women comprise only 15% of the A.I. research staff, while at Google, women account for only 10%”.

 Diversity in AI & big data - TalentSeer

There are a lot of issues with diversity in STEM. Element.AI published their 2019 Global AI Talent Report, where they found through analyzing more than 11,000 published papers across 21 conferences and cross-referencing with social networking data, that of the 22,400 people and papers published, only 18% of those researchers were women.

There are many aspects to diversity and inclusion. Gender diversity is just one along with others such as age, racial and ethnic diversity, educational and background diversity, sexual orientation, and experience. Ultimately as Susan St. Ledger states “Diversity and inclusion efforts are not a ‘nice to have’ — they’re business-critical …Recruiting high-potential talent with different skill sets, experiences and ideas is proven to strengthen teams”. And studies show this especially when it comes to gender diversity; research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY highlight how companies with at least 30% female leadership have higher net profit margins (6%) than companies with no women in senior ranks.  

Georgina Salamy, Director of Talent @ Zoox, 2019 AI Talent Summit - Diversity in AI & Big Data - TalentSeer
Georgina Salamy, Director of Talent @ Zoox, 2019 AI Talent Summit

Georgina Salamy, Director of Talent at Zoox, a Californian based robotics company built to create autonomous mobility, talked at TalentSeer’s AI Talent Summit in September about how a diverse workforce is critical when building & designing their products and services as it will be used by everyone. “You only get one shot, and you need to diversify early on so you get all the perspectives of whom may be using the product”.

So how do we build a more diverse, inclusive AI Talent ecosystem?

At TalentSeer, we strongly believe in nurturing the growth and development of AI professionals. We support our clients to devise the best talent strategies to navigate through the talent ecosystem, which is fundamental to compete in global markets. Our clients have diversity as one of their top priorities.

There are many initiatives and methods for developing a more diverse workplace. We look to build influence within the AI community through – our AI content platform, and Leaders in AI podcasts where we interview a wide range of AI professionals.

As it relates to gender diversity, it is important to hear from inspiring and motivational leaders with a diverse range of backgrounds, such as Irina Farooq, Chief Product Officer at Kinetica, Shumian Xin – the Best Paper Award winner from CVPR 2019, and Dr. Lei Yang, VP and Head of Engineering at Quora to build encouragement and inspiration. We can learn from their backgrounds, their challenges and paths to success.

Irina Farooq, CPO @ Kinetica, at Leaders in AI Interview with host Margaret Laffan - Diversity in AI & Big Data - TalentSeer
Irina Farooq, CPO @ Kinetica, at Leaders in AI Interview with host Margaret Laffan

Additionally we actively seek to build partnerships with organizations such as Women in Big Data, a 14K+ strong global organization aimed at inspiring, connecting, and championing the success of women in big data. The partnership has a particular commitment towards organizing exclusive events that facilitate career advancement in AI for underrepresented groups. When we came together earlier this year to discuss our collaboration and partnership we both recognized through many of the women we knew in our networks that there is, at times, a hesitancy for women to look at startups given ambiguous information regarding equity, the risk/reward metrics, and many not often discussed issues on what it takes to be successful in a startup versus a corporate – more established company.

We believe that de-mystifying the process and creating an environment to learn and ask from experienced female leaders in the startup community can encourage more women to seriously assess joining one.  One of the events we hosted together on Dec 5th, How to access a start-up offer, was sold out with a waitlist in place.

TalentSeer x WiBD meetup: How to access a start-up offer - Diversity in AI & Big Data
TalentSeer x WiBD meetup: How to access a start-up offer

I moderated the Dec 5th panel discussion with:

For more information on this event read our blog here.

Throughout 2020 we will have a number of Diversity in AI events to continue these discussions. We believe that starting this type of conversation, learning from each other, educating ourselves, and keeping an open and growth mindset will encourage more women to jump into AI startups and have incredible experiences that, regardless of outcome, will drive new levels of growth and bring more diversity into AI.

About the author: Margaret Laffan

Vice President, Business Development @TalentSeer; Host @; Venture Partner @BoomingStar Ventures

Margaret Laffan is the Vice President of Business Development at TalentSeer—a specialized AI talent partner dedicated to building and nurturing AI teams for companies at various growth stages—and a venture partner with BoomingStar Ventures—a $1.5b fund focused on AI, robotics, and autonomous driving early stage startups. Margaret leads the development of new partnerships to accelerate the expansion of TalentSeer’s AI talent ecosystem. Previously, Margaret drove sales and business development at SAP and has held leadership roles in various startups. Laffan is published on Forbes and contributes to other media. She earned her master’s degree in political science from the University of Dublin, and has 15+ years working in industry, nonprofit and startup sector. Follow Margaret on Twitter @MargaretLaffan

About TalentSeer

TalentSeer is the fastest-growing AI talent platform in the U.S. providing integrated talent acquisition, market research, and employer branding services. With an engaged AI community –, an innovative AI recruiting approach, and deep domain knowledge, TalentSeer aims to be the go-to talent partner for companies at various stages. TalentSeer has a 200,000+ talent pool and helped with 100+ partners across autonomous driving, internet, finance, retail, and healthcare industries to build strong AI teams.

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