Listening to the perspectives of people from a diverse range of backgrounds and communities is crucial in the creation of a more just, equitable and inclusive society, writes Chinazor Kalu, Data & AI subject matter expert for Niyo Bootcamps.

Failing to do so risks propounding “a single story”, as novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes it, creating space for fundamental misinterpretations reflective of a single individual’s narrative, community, or culture. Unfortunately, the world of data and artificial intelligence (AI) is notorious for its stark lack of diversity; it is a pressing issue that tech firms need to address.

Analysis of the recent tech layoffs in the US showed that 45% of those who lost their jobs in the recent wave of redundancies were women, despite the fact that women account for less than a third of tech industry workers. In other words, a disproportionately high number of women in tech lost their jobs in 2022. It would be interesting – and undoubtedly important – to see comparable data for the recent layoffs in UK tech.

The situation is even more concerning for women of colour based on available data

A recent report entitled The Experiences of Black Women in the IT Industry revealed that just 0.7% of black women in the UK work in the IT industry, compared to 1.8% across the UK’s entire workforce. The study also revealed that women of all backgrounds and ethnicities make up around 22% of IT professionals (approximately 424,000), compared to 48% when examining the entire UK workforce. Put simply, the figures show that women, particularly black women, are far less likely to work in tech than other sectors.

When it comes to data and AI, “a single story” creates the potential for technologies to be negatively affected by a lack of diversity within the community advancing them. This can result in inherent misunderstandings, biases, and even racism.

The impact of underrepresentation on data and AI bias

The growing trend of AI products, such as ChatGPT and its competitors, has generated discourse, concern, and excitement in equal measure throughout the first three months of 2023. The possibilities of these technologies appear to be endless, ranging from personalised healthcare to autonomous vehicles.

However, the underrepresentation of black women in developing these technologies is an alarming trend. The scarcity of representation restricts the parameters of perspectives and experiences incorporated into the AI and, therefore, risks perpetuating and exacerbating existing biases and prejudices. This includes, but is not limited to, failures of AI to properly identify the gender of darker-skinned women compared to lighter-skinned women, sexist hiring practices, racist criminal justice procedures, predatory advertising, and the spread of false information.

To address this issue, it is important to promote the use of diverse and representative datasets in the development of AI and machine learning models to mitigate the risk of perpetuating biases.

Likewise, it is crucial to increase representation of black women and other underrepresented groups in the tech industry, particularly in leadership and technical roles. Indeed, a 2021 Deloitte survey of women and men working in AI and machine learning (ML) found that the inclusion of women will bring unique perspectives to the development of advanced technology.

The role of digital skills bootcamps

While significant challenges remain with regards to improved representation of black women in tech data and AI, many outstanding black women continue to make remarkable contributions to the field. There has also been a notable uptick in the number of black-owned businesses paving the way on the promotion and preparation of women for corporations looking to embrace black female talent and more equitable practices.

For instance, the Niyo Group, which upskills black women for tech and data roles, is dedicated to this mission, providing training opportunities for black women seeking tech and data roles. This inclusion black women in the advancement of data and AI technologies works to prevent bias from affecting data sets and algorithms. Indeed, black women working in data means black female representation in data.

The risk of amplifying AI bias 

AI-driven products present an inherent danger of bias. To mitigate this, it is imperative that those building the products are reflective of the society which the products are built for; diversifying the workforce, in turn, diversifies the data used to build algorithms.

One practical solution to increasing representation is through digital skills bootcamps. These bootcamps equip learners with digital skills, including coding, cybersecurity, and digital marketing, providing access to roles in the tech industry.

Niyo runs skills bootcamps in collaboration with the West Midlands Combined Authority. They support the unemployed, those seeking a career change, as well as employed people looking to gain the digital skills required to secure more responsibility or a promotion with their current employer.

The bootcamps are geared towards black women looking for a pathway into a tech career, giving them the chance to learn online and flexibly within a growing community of other black women in tech. Such bootcamps have a significant role to play in facilitating digital skills training and creating career pathways for people irrespective of their background.

There is so much conversation around AI at present. A great deal of it excited, but many concerns.

However, any potential benefits of AI can, and will, be undermined by bias. It is crucial to diversify the data used to build algorithms for this reason. This can be achieved by promoting diversity in the development of these technologies. To support this effort, it is important to encourage employers and individuals seeking to acquire new skills to explore digital skills bootcamps in their area. These bootcamps offer valuable training in essential digital skills and provide career pathways for people regardless of their background.

About the author

Chinazor Kalu is a data & AI subject-matter expert for the digital skills bootcamps run Niyo Bootcamps. Niyo is a multifaceted organisation that uses innovative, creative tools such as technology, hair, and beauty to economically empower black women. With funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority, Niyo runs a number of bootcamps geared towards black women looking for a pathway into a tech career, giving them the chance to learn online and flexibly within a growing community of other black women in tech.


If AI, Bias and Race in tech interests you, why not attend our upcoming One Tech World virtual conference on 27 April.  We have incredible speakers such as Hannah Awonuga who is a Global Director leading the DEI Colleague Engagement strategy at Barclays Bank who will be speaking about Race in Tech, we also have Nicola L. Martin MBCS MWES, Head of Quality Engineering, Adarga, talking about how to disrupt AI biases in software engineering. Find out more here about these sessions and book your ticket.