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Sexist algorithms denying women jobs, Culture Secretary warns as report finds they hold only 24% of UK tech roles

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 15/01/2020 Mike Wright
Britain's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Nicky Morgan is seen at Downing Street in London, Britain, December 17, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay © Thomson Reuters Britain's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Nicky Morgan is seen at Downing Street in London, Britain, December 17, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Sexist algorithms are ‘ignoring women’s voices’ and denying them jobs, the Culture Secretary has warned as it emerged less than a quarter of UK tech jobs are held by women.

Baroness Nicky Morgan said the lack of women at tech firms meant devices and services were being designed by men and for men with “gender inequality embedded”.

She cited smart speakers that struggled to hear women’s voices as they were predominantly tested on men and algorithms weighted towards declining women loans or jobs.

Her comments come as a report into gender equality in Britain’s tech industry found women only made up 24 percent of “technical roles” in those businesses.

Video: Closing the Gender Gap in STEM Fields (Bloomberg)

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In an oped for The Telegraph, Baroness Morgan said: “If women are not at the table when these discussions are taking place then there is a risk that gender inequality gets embedded. 

“Whether it’s voice recognition designed for male voices so women literally can’t be heard or algorithms designed to sift job applications that can unintentionally hire more men into male-dominated jobs. 

“Or as we heard on the Treasury Select Committee, banking algorithms might unintentionally be making more favourable credit decisions  towards men than women. Not because of the strength of the application, but because of in-built bias.

“And as technology takes on a greater role in our everyday lives, there is a risk that women can become sidelined, not through malice but subconscious bias.”

Gallery: Countries with the highest and lowest gender gap (Photo Services)

The report has been compiled by the Tech Talent Charter (TTC), a not-for-profit organisation that aims to increase diversity in tech and business and which has more than 300 signatory members including Nationwide, HP, Monster, Cisco and BAE.

The TTC looked at employment data across all its members, which represent over 700,000 employees and found that only 14 percent of the businesses had a target for the number of women given job interviews. 

It also found that 35 percent had no strategy to improve gender representation, although half of those companies said they have plans to implement one in 2020.

The report also found gender underrepresentation was less pronounced in mico-companies - businesses with nine or fewer employees - with women holding 42 percent of roles in those firms.

Debbie Forster, CEO Tech Talent Charter, said: “It can be tough to ask companies to consistently refocus on recruitment. 

“But, to get the best out of the limited pipeline of tech talent, our research shows that the combination of putting multiple women on shortlists and clear diversity focused goals understood by staffing and recruiting partners can increase the diversity of candidates sourced and hired.”

The lack of female representation at tech firms was laid bare as the Government released figures showing UK companies hoovered up over one third of Europe’s tech investment in 2018. Figures from the entrepreneur network Tech Nation showed the UK industry attracted a record high of £10.1billin in investment, up £3.1 billion on 2017.

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