The size of Canada’s AI workforce is lagging behind the U.S., India, Germany and Switzerland. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The size of Canada’s AI workforce is lagging behind the U.S., India, Germany and Switzerland. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada has fifth biggest AI workforce, but still lacks diversity: study

TORONTO — Canada has the globe’s fifth largest artificial intelligence workforce, but is still far from closing the gender gap in the sector, according to new rankings from the World Economic Forum.

The international organization used LinkedIn data to find the size of Canada’s AI workforce is lagging behind the U.S., India, Germany and Switzerland, but beating dozens of countries including France, Spain, Singapore and Sweden.

However, the Forum found as part of its annual rankings on gender disparities that women only make up 24 per cent of Canada’s AI workforce, and 22 per cent of the world’s AI workforce.

The Forum said the lack of women in Canada’s and the global AI pool is troubling because it implies that technology is being developed without diverse talent, thus ”limiting its innovation and inclusive capacity.”

Low integration of women in AI talent pools, it said, is a “significant missed opportunity in a professional domain where there is already insufficient supply of adequately qualified labour.” If not addressed soon, the Forum warned the gap could widen further.

Sarah Kaplan, the director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Gender and the Economy, said Canada needs to do more to develop the diversity of the AI workforce because the technology has the potential to replace lots of human processes and decisions.

“If we don’t have a diverse workforce working in AI, we risk not only perpetuating existing biases, but actually amplifying them and leading to really negative outcomes for the most vulnerable people in our society,” she said.

“We need to make a really huge deal out of the fact that we are not bringing a diverse workforce to work on this technology, which may shape all of our lives.”

Diversity, she added, is important because whoever designs AI technologies will decide how the systems act. A wider talent pool can help mitigate situations society has already encountered, such as where some facial recognition systems were developed without the availability to recognize black faces.

“No one ever thought ‘does this work on someone other than a Caucasian person?’” Kaplan said. “The fact that we have an AI technology developed by a non-diverse workforce is hugely problematic.”

Kaplan said she has grown tired of seeing AI firms treat diversity as a “afterthought” and wishes it was being taken more seriously, so Canada’s gender gap would be much better than the global average’s.

However, the Forum did find at least one positive when it comes to Canada’s AI sector: the country’s AI sector employs more women than the four countries — the U.S., India, Germany and Switzerland that rank above Canada in terms of AI workforce size.

Jodie Wallis, the managing director for consulting firm Accenture’s AI department in Canada, said she felt encouraged by the size of the country’s AI sector and the handful of women she sees in the country in high-profile AI jobs.

It is women, she pointed out, that are running Facebook’s AI research lab in Montreal and Uber’s self-driving car efforts in Toronto and contributing to Google’s DeepMind unit.

“Women don’t have to look up and think ‘gee, I don’t think I am going to go into this field because we don’t have any winners,’” said Wallis. “That is one thing we have going for us.”

Despite the country’s successes in AI, Wallis said Canada still needs to get better at scaling its technology and focusing on the enrolment of women in technology-related courses.

Aside from its announcements about the AI workforce, the Forum also revealed Monday that Canada ranked 16th in its annual gender gap ranking.

It marked the second year Canada placed 16th in the international organization’s list, which measures economic, educational, health and political disparities experienced between men and women in more than 100 countries around the world.

Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland took the top spots, but Canada ranked above Latvia, Bulgaria, South Africa, Switzerland and dozens of other countries.

When it comes to wage equality, Canada ranked 50th, behind the U.S., Germany, Thailand, Uganda and Ukraine.

The World Economic Forum said this year the global gender gap closed slightly, after widening for the first time in a decade last year.

The organization calculates that it will take 108 years to close the gender gap across politics, work, health and education, but 202 years to close the workplace gender gap.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

GrammaLink-Africa members are participating in the Stride to Turn the Tide campaign until June 30. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer group walking to raise money for African grandmothers

A group of central Albertans will be walking every day until the… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Montreal Canadiens' Tyler Toffoli celebrates his goal past Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Toffoli scores twice, Canadiens put some distance on Flames with 2-1 win

Toffoli scores twice, Canadiens put some distance on Flames with 2-1 win

Canadian prop Jake Ilnicki savouring life in Seattle, looks forward to facing Arrows

Canadian prop Jake Ilnicki savouring life in Seattle, looks forward to facing Arrows

Corey Conners, of Canada, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 11, 2021. Conners notched six birdies on his back nine to take the lead after his second round of the RBC Heritage on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Slocum
Canadian Corey Conners surges into lead at PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage

Canadian Corey Conners surges into lead at PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage

Patrick Marleau poised to break Gordie Howe’s games record

Patrick Marleau poised to break Gordie Howe’s games record

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada serves to Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in round 1 of the Rogers Cup women's tennis tournament in Toronto, Monday August 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Rebecca Marino propels Canada into 2-0 lead over Serbia at Billie Jean King Cup

Rebecca Marino propels Canada into 2-0 lead over Serbia at Billie Jean King Cup

Dalton Kellett pulls out of the pits during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Dalton Kellett is pleased his second career season in IndyCar will be different than his first, which started on an elaborate iRacing rig in his home office in Indianapolis because of COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Darron Cummings
Canada’s Dalton Kellett set for a more stable season as an IndyCar driver

Canada’s Dalton Kellett set for a more stable season as an IndyCar driver

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Canadian women get peek at their possible road at Olympic soccer tournament

Canadian women get peek at their possible road at Olympic soccer tournament

Head coach John Tait talks to his team as Canada takes on Japan in women's sevens rugby action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Rugby Canada says probe into complaint from members of women’s 7s team is complete

Rugby Canada says probe into complaint from members of women’s 7s team is complete

Most Read