Meet the African women who are changing the ratio in tech

“Increasing diverse participation is not a women’s issue (or an issue relevant only to other underrepresented groups),” says Catherine Ashcraft, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Ashcraft believes that diversity and inclusion are business issues, as well as human issues, and as such, men have to be involved and invested.But it’s taken a startup that’s given us the creepily humanoid robot Sophia (who you may remember was granted Saudi Arabian citizenship) to push to change the game. “At SingularityNET, we are hiring every woman, man, humanoid, you name it, that has the right talent to build it from the ground up,” says Ibby Benali, marketing manager and data protection officer at SingularityNET who is leading a team of content creators, designers, marketers, futurists, and developers to decentralize artificial intelligence and to democratize access to AI. “We cannot afford to miss out on talented women, we really need them, and we are heavily competing for them,” says Benali.

Although the ranks of women in tech jobs–particularly in leadership–continue to be disproportionately low, emerging new technologies like AI and blockchain have the potential to change the ratio and eventually equalize representation. Right now, men are promoted at a rate of 30% greater than women when they move from individual contributor to management, across industries. The number of women gets successively lower, the higher up the corporate chain you get.

AI as a technology is proving to begin to lift some of the human biases that prevent women and underrepresented minorities from rising to leadership. But company culture like that at SingularityNET–even though its founding executive team consists of three white men (and its senior leadership are three men, too)–is striving to change the workforce right in their own offices, Benali believes.

She notes that Ben Goertzel, cofounder of iCog and SingularityNET created curriculums taught to women in Ethiopia and is recruiting them as well. “The board wants women to be successful, and thus is pushing initiatives to get the women in our company seen,” Benali says.

Using herself as an example, Benali, a second-generation immigrant from Morocco, says that SingularityNET promoted her to manager immediately when they noticed she was up for review. “I did not have to go through long corporate procedures and back and forths,” she explains. “They saw the talent, and gave me the opportunity.”

With an all-male executive team, is it tough to see herself in a more senior leadership role? Benali argues that SingularityNET is not actually hierarchical. “Everyone can contribute ideas for the boardroom, and I have never experienced a moment where the executives would exclude other people’s viewpoints,” she says. “Everyone can be a leader already.

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