As the global landscape of artificial intelligence (AI) professionals reveals a stark gender disparity, with women comprising only 26%, FAIR Forward takes proactive steps to address systemic challenges. Unequal employment opportunities, barriers to active AI participation, and non-conducive work environments contribute to this divide, hindering women's entry and progress in the field.
Acknowledging a parallel trend in Africa through its training initiatives, FAIR Forward responds with a targeted strategy. Recognizing that meaningful change arises when programs intentionally address barriers faced by women, FAIR Forward launches a specialized training program designed explicitly for women. This initiative not only acknowledges their unique needs but also signals their rightful place in the AI sector.
The tailored training programs extend beyond the generic, ensuring relevance to partner countries in Africa. By customizing content to align with economic situations and local environments, FAIR Forward aims to engage women more effectively. This inclusivity extends to considerations like childcare provisions and ensuring accessibility, creating an environment conducive to the success of women in the AI field.
A landmark development in this effort is the AI and Data Science Bootcamp Pilot in South Africa. In collaboration with the Project Data Economy and Intel, MBC Consulting executed the training program from July to October 2023. Notably, the partnership with Intel allowed the integration of their AI for Current Workforce content into the curriculum. The success of the bootcamp is marked by the certification awarded to students upon completion, including recognition for completing the three Intel programs: Practitioner, Professional, and Producer Certificates. Main differences in the course design compared to courses that do not consider gender aspects include:
- No Coding Experience Necessary: The course is designed to welcome participants without any coding background or IT/STEM expertise.
- Flexibility in Schedule and Format: Offering a schedule and format that accommodates various lifestyles and commitments.
- Women Role Models: Providing female role models within the course to inspire and empower participants.
- Mum-and-Kid-Friendly Environment: Creating an inclusive space that caters to mothers, ensuring a friendly atmosphere for both mothers and children.
- Comprehensive Career Development and Mentorship: Focusing on the holistic development of participants with dedicated career guidance and mentorship.
- Leave No One Behind Principle: Introducing additional lessons to support participants who may feel left behind, facilitated through peer learning and support from both fellow participants and trainers. The lead trainer goes the extra mile by assisting those facing internet connection issues, finding local solutions to keep them connected and motivated.
- Community Engagement: Fostering a sense of community within the course, encouraging collaboration and shared learning experiences.
As a next step, an e-learning course will be developed from the Bootcamp's content in collaboration with the Digital Skills 4 Jobs and Income project in South Africa and the National Electronic Media agency (NEMISA). The resulting Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) will find a home on both NEMISA's platform and atingi, marking a pivotal step in expanding educational accessibility.