Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

As we advance technologically and experience more and more enhancements in artificial intelligence (AI), the division of work between humans and machines is changing significantly1. With these changes comes the evolution of economic gender gaps which have to be monitored closely. AI is the key driver of changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)1. The rise of AI is creating a demand for new skills in areas such as neural networks, deep learning, and machine learning, to name a few1.

Women represent a minor percentage of the digital labour force2. Fields such as IT, physics, mathematics and engineering where women are the most underrepresented, are the fields that are most relevant to 4IR2. In a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in partnership with LinkedIn, it was found that there is only a 22% female representation of female AI professionals compared to 78% of males1. This is a gender gap of a massive 72%! South Africa is performing slightly better than the world average with a 28% female representation in AI as compared to Germany and the USA which have a female representation of 16% and 23% respectively1.

These statistics explain part of the reason of why women inventors make up just under 13% globally according to a study by the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO)3. To put it in perspective, this means there is only 1 female inventor for every 7 male inventors3. The other explanation is that there is a pipeline issue, not only is there a significantly lesser number of women in the workforce in STEM industries but fewer girls study STEM subjects in secondary school and university3. There have been numerous efforts to diagnose and solve this gender gap.

A few studies have pinpointed some of the core barriers which include:

  • Lack of interest in STEM related fields by girls in high school. Despite the fact that girls scored the same as boys in STEM subjects, they have a lack of self-confidence in their abilities in these subjects4. Further, girls often perform better in reading and when they progress further in high school, they rate their reading comprehension higher than their performance in STEM subjects4. These factors may further explain why girls are underrepresented in STEM subjects in school4. This research highlights the importance of the work done by foundations such as the Girls Fly Programme in Africa Foundation which encourages young girls to take up careers in STEM. They work with girls from primary school through to university.
  • Women have been found to have under-developed business and entrepreneurship skills. In addition to providing coding and digital marketing skills, it is also necessary to use these skills to create and capture business opportunities4.
  • Access to funding is another barrier for female innovators4. In a study conducted in the UK, a third of the women said that being a woman in a male dominated field affected their career in a negative way5. Organisations such as Dazzle Angels provide mentorship and funding for female entrepreneurs and help them advance technologically to scale up their businesses.

We have celebrated women innovators throughout the month of March in celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2022. The gender gap remains high however, some progress has been made. By identifying the barriers that affect the number of women in innovation, we can strive to alleviate them and increase the number of women named as inventors in patent applications. We hope that you play your part in making this happen.

Written by: Tumelo Mashabela, Managing Director and Registered Patent Attorney

For all your IP, commercial and corporate law services, please contact us on 012 942 8710 / info@tm-attorneys.africa. You can also find us on social media platforms with the handle @TshayaMashabelaAttorneys (@TshayaMashabela on Twitter).


  1. https://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2018/assessing-gender-gaps-in-artificial-intelligence/#:~:text=Only%2022%25%20of%20AI%20professionals,of%2072%25%20yet%20to%20close.
  2. https://en.unesco.org/news/women-minority-industry-40-fields
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-49843990
  4. https://www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/three-barriers-holding-back-the-next-wave-of-female-digital-leaders/
  5. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/women-in-innovation-understanding-barriers-to-innovation

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