Tech bias puts millions at risk of unemployment, unfair treatment

Women in STEM ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith
Women in STEM ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith addresses the National Press Club on tech bias.

Millions of young Australians risk missing out on employment opportunities and economic independence because of their gender and tech bias, says Australia’s first Women in STEM ambassador.

Astrophysicist and Professor of Practice at UNSW, Lisa Harvey-Smith addressed the national press club yesterday, warning of a combination of gender bias and technological change that will unfairly impact half of Australia’s population in the next decade.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) across industries from job recruitment to privacy is exacerbating inherent bias, she said.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that many AI systems magnify the gender and racial biases that we have in our society. When used in facial recognition, or self driving cars, or police databases, AI can spell the difference between life and death.”

Tech bias due to Women in STEM unbalance

Most AI systems are designed by white men, with the consequence that AI crime prediction systems show prejudice against black men in America, while facial recognition systems, widely used by police as well as many other industries, are 99% effective at recognising white men and only 35% effective when recognising black women, Lisa says.

“That is storing up some real problems.”

She also pointed to high income job advertising being preferentially shown to men.

$145 billion of GDP comes from the STEM sector, she pointed out. Upskilling women could have a profound economic effect, Lisa emphasised.

Women in STEM resources

In 2019 the Women in STEM decadal plan sets out a plan to move forward, while resources include the Girls in STEM Toolkit and Careers with STEM hub, as well as coding programs, clubs and more.

But more needs to be done to reduce gender bias across the country, including remote and regional areas, she says.

Kids will need to be ready to “find solutions to global challenges” such as providing clean water and food to a growing population, addressing climate change and preparing for increasing automation of technology and services.

“There is a psychological condition called ‘maths anxiety’ and it tends to affect girls more acutely than boys. Researchers in the US found that parents with 2 year olds talked about numbers three times more often with boys than with girls. When we’re aware of these biases, we can be sure that we don’t perpetuate them.”

Watch the full Press club address on ABC here.

Looking for female role models in STEM? Search through our Women in STEM page by STEM area or your area of interest!

Want to get career inspiration, tips and find out where and what to study? Subscribe to the quarterly Careers with STEM magazines.

Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs


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