Blazing a Trail for Diversity in AI

As Women in AI (WAI) Ambassador to the Netherlands and founder of WaiACCELERATE – the first ethical leadership and business accelerator aimed at female AI entrepreneurs – Eve Logunova is at the forefront of the movement to make the Dutch tech ecosystem a more diverse and inclusive place.

Originally born in Russia, Eve’s career has taken her all over the world, from the US to the UK to Cambodia, and into the offices of young startups and established global organisations alike, including IBM, Ingenico and Alcatel-Lucent (now Nokia). Since arriving in the Netherlands in 2012, she has dedicated her drive and expertise to bridging the gender gap in the AI industry, and opening doors for other female entrepreneurs.

The Impact of Inclusion

Data tells a story of significant gender disparity in tech, not just in the Netherlands but all over Europe. According to 2019’s State of European Tech Report only 5% of Europe’s tech founders are female. ‘Europe has 6 women entrepreneurs for every 10 men when you look across tech and non-tech,’ Eve explains, ‘but in tech alone, that becomes just 5% (1 in 20).

Before launching Women in AI in the Netherlands, I thought, “where are the women?” Then I started witnessing more and more women attending Women in AI events and joining the community. Most of them were curious about starting their own ventures, but something was stopping them. I wanted to know what that was and what could be done to improve gender parity in the startup world.’

Diversity and inclusion is a broad topic that impacts us all, but each industry and sector faces its own unique challenges. In AI, the gender gap is stark; the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2018 Global Gender Gap Report revealed that men and women are acquiring skills in AI at similar rates, but only 22% of AI professionals across the world are women. That number decreases even further as you move up the seniority ladder.

‘When male entrepreneurs look for funding they generally find it easier because they know how the process works,’ Eve explains. ‘When women approach the same situation, they encounter lots of specifics that count against them. Motherhood, marriage and pregnancy are all seen as exclusively female challenges. Also, the historical record shows mostly men in leadership positions and that creates an additional question – are women even capable of leading and ensuring business growth? But when you look at the revenue produced by startups and companies run by female founders, on average they make 20% more revenue. It shows a clear lack of understanding and underestimation of the ability of women.'

Ultimately that gender gap creates a disparity that affects us all, not just those who work in AI. Year-by-year we further embrace artificial intelligence as the gateway to a more efficient and enlightened world. AI software plays an increasing role in almost every industry, from healthcare and pharmaceuticals to finance to transport. Yet, AI is built from a position of severe imbalance; gender disparity in AI means that gender biases are hard-coded into artificial intelligence software and tools. As AI becomes more entrenched in our lives, those biases become entrenched too. ‘If we don’t find a solution to improving gender parity – in particular in the field of AI – the fully automated world of tomorrow will be highly biased,’ Eve warns. ‘That would be a great threat to humanity’s existence.’

Ultimately that gender gap creates a disparity that affects us all, not just those who work in AI. Evgenia Logunova

Closing the Gap

Eve founded WaiACCELERATE in 2019 as a way to tackle that gender disparity and support women who wanted to start businesses in AI, machine learning and data science. Through online modules and educational initiatives, WaiACCELERATE helps to educate female entrepreneurs on important topics, removing the blockers that keep them from reaching their potential. By securing partnerships with the key stakeholders in the public and private sector, Eve has made WaiACCELERATE into a one-stop-shop for female entrepreneurs in search of entrepreneurial guidance.

The accelerator was originally piloted for the Netherlands but in its first year it attracted talent from all over the globe; currently there are 20+ women founders actively enrolled, representing Australia, France, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, the UK, and the US. Just weeks after graduating, many of WaiACCELERATE’s first founders are already raising investments from global stakeholders and being recognized for their innovative, impact-driven solutions.

According to the projections offered by the aforementioned WEF report, it could take more than 200 years to close the gender gap globally. By striving to eliminate the gender gap in AI, Eve hopes that she will help to create a more inclusive world for all of us. ‘I want to help create a less biased world, where women and men from diverse cultures, backgrounds and identities work alongside each other as peers and equals,’ she says. ‘Where ethics and respect are a social norm. It starts with ‘re-engineering’ human behavior and continues with cleaning the existing data sets and coding new algorithms in a non-discriminatory way.'