Maysoon El-Ahmad on Dec, 2017


Despite decades of fighting for equality, we are now seeing a new diversity problem emerge in the tech field which tends to be dominated by ‘young white men’. 

Speaking during a panel discussion on AI at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in January, the director of MIT Media Lab Joichi Ito said “the way you get into computers is because your friends are into computers, which is generally white men. So, when you look at the demographics across Silicon Valley you see a lot of white men”.

An example of the tech industry’s diversity problem recently went viral – it showed a white and a dark-skinned man both trying to get soap from a soap dispenser. The soap dispenser which senses skin placed underneath it was able to identify the white man’s hand and dispense soap but it didn’t work for the dark-skinned man.

Other examples include:

  • Voice recognition platforms such as ‘Alexa’ and ‘Siri’ often don’t work for people from non-English speaking backgrounds or minority languages
  • Facial recognition often doesn’t work for black people
  • Car airbags are more likely to harm women as they were not designed to avoid breasts nor were they tested with female crash test dummies (lighter, smaller, with breasts). A 2011 study by the University of Virginia’s Centre for Applied Biomechanics found that seat-belted female drivers in actual crashes had a 47 percent higher chance of serious injury than belted male drivers in comparable collisions. For moderate injuries, that difference rose to 71 percent.


  • As more products developed by tech companies enter the market, we expect to see more product plunders which will give rise to the importance of diversity in product design teams.
  • This will place greater importance on getting young females into studying STEM courses and the need to pursue careers in tech product design.
  • Testing products across a diverse range of consumers will become increasingly important as companies look to avoid negative PR stories.
  • While we don’t expect to see governments and companies imposing gender or other quotas to ensure diversity, we expect to see a greater focus on driving the diversity agenda in teams that develop and design products.
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