Poll Shows Fewer Women than Men Interested in AI Role

In the lead up to London Tech Week of June 10, and to mark the anniversary of the ‘AI Sector Deal’ (in which the Government committed £1 billion to boost the development of the sector), the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) commissioned a poll with Kantar Public looking at people’s perceptions of AI in terms of jobs and opportunities (they surveyed 2467 people in Great Britain).

Key results showed that:

  • Under 45s were significantly more likely to say they knew something about AI than over 45s (73% vs 54%).
  • Nearly 60% of people under 45 were interested in a career using AI.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of 16-24 year olds would like a career in AI).
  • Women are less likely to want a career in AI with only 31% agreeing they’d be interested compared to 47% of men.
  • 53% of women know something about AI compared to 73% of men.

This is precisely what the Government’s AI Sector Deal sets out to change – to skill more people in the use and understanding of AI, and hopefully more women than currently show an interest. In April 2018 the Government began an initiative to promote the adoption and use of AI in UK industry, to help boost the UK’s position as a leader and developer of AI tech (in the UK, a new AI start-up is founded almost weekly and 58 million jobs are expected to be created worldwide in the next five years - World Economic Forum report, September 2018). The support package comes from Government, industry and academic contributions to build on leadership, skills and talent, and data.

We know AI uptake is fairly slow in procurement, maybe more so in the public sector than the private, but the learnings from the private sector are making a massive difference to the profession, especially in terms of getting things right first time. Take the NHS, a strong 70% of those surveyed believe in the potential of AI to deliver faster and more accurate diagnosis of disease for example.

Already in procurement, some of the frontrunners, Coupa, Basware, Jaggaer, Sievo, Achilles and Hicx are some that come to mind (and there are many more), are really making AI work for them in parts of their offerings facilitated by data accuracy, transparency and accessibility.

The Government has introduced some exciting opportunities in the form of higher education, reskilling or specialising. There’s a new industry-funded AI Masters programme, beginning with at least 200 new AI Masters students, to launch in September this year. This is a relatively quick way to upskill existing employees, returners to work, or individuals interested in converting from other disciplines. And there’s a new Fellowship scheme, run in conjunction with the Alan Turing Institute, with 16 dedicated university centres to train AI PhDs and research fellowships, to attract and retain the top AI talent in the UK, for which the Department of Business received a £50 million injection. It has also, just last month, set up a new AI Council and a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

Should this resource be something procurement is tapping into as AI further infiltrates our processes and technologies – whether through hiring in new talent or upskilling the talent we have? Once the more repetitive, and lower-level tasks have been automated, procurement will be left needing the people who understand and can wield the technology running these jobs. Might graduates, not before entertaining a career path in procurement, be more inclined to do so if we are putting their AI-based skills to work? Procurement is, and is going to be, using AI and machine learning in all sorts of areas, whether that be spend classification, using a chatbox to help with sourcing, identifying risk in the supply chain, interpreting transaction data, invoice and contract reviews and verification, the list goes on. So there is ample opportunity in procurement for AI-educated or AI-upskilled professionals.

If you are interested in the findings in more detail, do see the poll stats here.

And the AI Review, ‘Growing the AI Industry in the UK’, led by Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti, which articulated how the government and industry can work together on skills, infrastructure and implement a long-term strategy for AI in the UK, can be read here.

One of the more startling stats in the overview above, is the gap in AI awareness and interest in an AI-related profession between men and women. The recommendations in the ‘Review’ dedicate a whole section to Diversity. Part of it states:

“Diversity is particularly important for AI as the output quality of the algorithm depends on the assurance that the inherent bias of programmers does not transfer to code. A diverse group of programmers reduces the risk of bias embedding into the algorithm and enables a fairer and higher quality output. Currently, the workforce is not representative of the wider population. In the past, gender and ethnic exclusion have been shown to affect the equitability of results from technology processes. If UK AI cannot improve the diversity of its workforce, the capability and credibility of the sector will be undermined.”

Good news then that many procurement organisations are really flying the diversity banner and trying to promote a more diverse workforce – one example was at the SAP Ariba conference we attended recently – read about that here.


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