Eve Roodhouse chief executive of economic development at Leeds City Council, told the audience at the Leeds Beckett University Business Centre’s Women in Leadership event that male-dominated environments are already being reflected in the output of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
She said: “We know intuitively that diversity matters. It’s also increasingly clear that there’s an evidence base for it.
“McKinsey did a really good piece of research where they showed that organisations that have more diverse workforces are more successful in terms of their outcomes.
“There is evidence that this is something we should be doing and it’s a competitive differentiator.”
Ms Roodhouse, who was one of five speakers at the event in Leeds, added: “It’s also clear that as we go through the fourth industrial revolution we really need to think about diversity if we don’t want to have solutions that are built for us as a society that have bias built into them.
“There’s a lot of reflection going on at the moment because a lot of bias is being built into artificial intelligence and machine learning because the majority of people that are working in that area are male.
“It’s showing in the outputs in terms of not being able to recognise different types of faces for example for facial recognition.
“Diversity isn’t just important for competitive advantage. It’s also important for making sure the solutions that come out of this fantastic digital age and the opportunities that surround it really don’t carry the biases that we’ve had in the past.”
Rachel Engwell, partner at business advisory firm Grant Thornton, Griselda Togobo, owner and managing director of women’s business network Forward Ladies, Ellie MacDonald, founder of PR firm MacComms and Emma Mugi-Turkington, from the leadership centre at Leeds Beckett, also spoke at the event.
Ms Engwell presented data from Grant Thornton’s annual research into women in business across the world.
Globally, businesses with at least one woman in senior management increased from 66 to 75 per cent last year. However, the percentage of women in senior management positions fell from 25 per cent to 24 per cent.
The proportion of senior roles held by women in the UK was up from 19 per cent to 22 per cent.
Ms Engwell said: “I do believe there’s great untapped potential in our region for businesses to capitalise on female talent.”
Ms Togobo talked about growing up in Ghana and seeing her mum defy stereotypes to set up thriving businesses.
“That’s where I really learnt to work hard,” she said, “and the value of entrepreneurship and the value of bringing different people together.”
She added: “The first degree I did was electronic engineering. Why did I do that? I did that because I was told I couldn’t do it.
“Don’t ever tell me that I can’t do something because I will go out there and prove to myself and to you that I absolutely can do it. That’s something that comes from my mum.”
Ms Togobo urged women in the audience to ignore data that shows a lack of diversity in business and to take control of their careers.
She said: “My message is just focus on what we can do. Lets not complain and moan. It just wastes energy. I refuse to give anybody further control about what I will be and what I will earn. It’s all down to me.
“I don’t care what the data is on ethnicity because for me it’s going to be different. Once I make it different for myself I’ll be able to make it different for people around me.”
Women need to believe in themselves and show confidence, according to Ellie MacDonald.
She said: “There’s no reason why women can’t be just as successful if not even more so than men.”
Ms MacDonald talked about setting up her own business and the challenges that she faced along the way.
“Confidence matters just as much as competence,” Ms MacDonald said. “If you really believe in yourself then others will as well.”
“The entrepreneurial journey in particular is a complete rollercoaster,” she added. “Every single day is different.”
The Women in Leadership events were sponsored by AD:VENTURE and delivered in partnership between Leeds Beckett, The Yorkshire Post, Lupton Fawcett LLP, WGN Accountants, Yorkshire Bank and Exa Networks