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Meet 8.000 Women in AI and their mission


2016 was a big year for artificial intelligence: Alpha-Go had just beaten world champion Lee Sedol, more voice assistants entered the market sounding very much like a human being and softwares like “My Text In Your Handwriting” created whole documents using one's personal writing style - to name just a few examples. Powered by these innovations, AI became inevitable and a hot topic around the globe. AI themed conferences, workshops and hackathons started to spring up like mushrooms, attracting all kinds of people from many different backgrounds. There was just one problem:


“All these AI events had two things in common: the majority of men attendees with technical backgrounds, and dominated stages by men.” (Moojan Asghari)

How male-dominated AI events inspired WAI


Two women noticed quickly that there was a lack of female participants. In 2016, Moojan Asghari and Dr. Hanan Salam met at one of the events - the Global Startup Weekend on AI (or GSWAI) in Paris, France. Their observation led to a decision that should influence the lives of thousands of women around the world.


Both teamed up and decided to create a “club” for women in AI. They started with initiating a simple Facebook group, which developed into a community with more than 8.000 members and 160 active volunteers (and counting) within the next four years.


“We started Women in AI because we believe in the power of community to reduce the gender gap in the AI industry. We wanted to create a safe and inspiring place where role models and young women will meet and build together the foundations of a fair and inclusive use of AI”,

describes Caroline Lair the original idea behind the non-profit organization Women in AI (WAI). The business professional joined WAI in early 2017 as the third co-founder, shortly after Moojan and Hanan decided to actively increase the representation and participation of women in AI.


Shaping inclusive AI systems with womanpower


“Women in AI was born both from the urgency to act against the reproduction of gender-bias in algorithms but also the fantastic opportunity to seize this AI revolution. In order to shape inclusive AI systems and consequently a more inclusive society for women, we needed females involved in the field of AI. However, we could not easily find them, indeed only 20% of AI professionals were women (WEF 2018). We felt the need of a global community where female role models and AI professionalsI would be able to connect, support each other with their career, inspire and educate the youngest, and contribute at mitigating the gender gap in the field while setting the foundations for a fair and inclusive use of AI”, Caroline adds.

Increasing female representation in AI through public speaking


The three women decided to connect with likeminded women by utilizing three core instruments: events, public speaking and education.


“The reality is that there are women experts in AI and Tech, and there are actually a lot of them (here’s a directory of Women in Machine Learning for instance). But they are not visible as much as their male peers. That’s why we focus on events, to put the light on those women who are great for what they do”,

explains Moojan in her personal recap on Medium.


Public speaking added the factors of self confidence and the courage to face fears. Skills that are necessary to bring more women on stage and conference agendas. Since then, more than 15.000 people attended WAI events and 600 - mostly female - speakers shared their knowledge on stage. Those events are organized in 140 countries around the world by volunteers who work for making an impact not for an income. It is thanks to their passion and efforts that WAI is on a continuous growth curve and a successful mission to close the gender gap in AI.


Creating the next women leaders


“I have elaborated on our educational program WAI2GO. In this program, we have several projects tailored for young women, including mentoring aimed at encouraging and accompanying them to become future leaders in AI”,

describes Hanan the educational element of WAI in an interview.


“Our community includes many successful women who can provide mentorship to any woman who wants to start a business, choose a career in AI or even change her career to an AI related one. We are also creating the next women leaders through our ambassadorship program. We mentor any woman who is interested in leading a sub-community of Women in AI in her city”, she adds.

These combined efforts resulted in a highly educated community, where 42% of all members have a Masters degree and 15% a PHD. Nearly half of all members are experienced professionals working in technology and AI. No matter what educational background, they all share one core commonality: They deeply care about diversity, inclusion and equality. Their main reason to join WAI is to help make a difference and to fight bias in AI.


In 2016, Hanan, Moojan and Caroline discovered a lack of women in AI. Today they are backed up by 8.000 other women and on their way to make change happen. The story of Women in AI proves the potential that lies in networks and female communities. Together, women are unstoppable.


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