Why women need to be involved in every aspect of AI

Sandra Mottoh tells workingmums.co.uk about her passion for ensuring women don’t get left behind in the Artificial Intelligence revolution.


Sandra Mottoh has over two decades of experience in banking, working in regulatory compliance at a senior level and promoting financial probity across the Middle East. Over those years she has been a role model for other black women in banking, but she has also become increasingly concerned about the lack of diversity in the world of Artificial Intelligence and how that affects fields such as banking.

She fears urgent action is needed to ensure women do not get permanently left behind because they are not represented and because technologies are being created that are based on biased assumptions. So she plans to address this by setting up an organisation that identifies the compliance gaps in the AI sector. Her aim is to model financial empowerment to women – particularly black women.

Sandra, now 42, did a law degree and went into regulatory banking at the start of her career. “I am one of those lucky people who find their career very early on,” she says. She loved the banking sector and worked across a range of organisations, from Barclays to HSBC to Bank of America and Citibank, mostly in the UK, although she has spent time in New York with Citibank and is currently based in Abu Dhabi. That means she has been able to see inside a range of companies and cultures.

She left Citibank five years ago and was thinking about becoming an entrepreneur as she felt she needed a new challenge. Then a role came up in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where she felt she could open doors and leave a legacy.

She became the most senior woman in the bank she worked at and also went on to co-chair the Middle East and North African branch of the Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists.

Women in AI

Sandra has long been interested in Artificial Intelligence [AI]. Since leaving the bank after having twins, however, she has become more passionate about the need for greater diversity in the AI workforce, including in regulatory banking. “AI is changing the world and increasingly defines everything we do,” says Sandra. “Yet the biases within it are so entrenched. It is reliant on historical data which is biased. That means it can entrench how men and women are perceived. If we do not have diversity in the workforce who question that data and make it more balanced, what will the future look like?”

She speaks of the lack of attention not just to women, but also to black or ethnic minority people.  Just before moving to Abu Dhabi, she took her nephew and niece to the Science Museum. They had a facial recognition tool which failed to recognise her nephew and niece’s faces because they are black.

When it comes to getting more women into AI, Sandra says typically the AI workforce is male because more men study subjects such as Computer Science. “Diversity enriches the conversation and brings different perspectives,” says Sandra. While it is important to get more women into Computer Science, Sandra also argues that the whole industry needs to be diversified, not just in terms of who is working in it, but in terms of their background and skillsets.  The AI sector needs more than computer scientists, she says, but it also needs doctors, lawyers, psychologists, behavioural scientists, bankers and more because AI affects every part of our lives.

Sandra’s organisation, AI White Box, aims to get more women from a compliance background working with AI founders or financial service firms by providing a way for companies to hire them on a pro-bono basis.

Initially she thought the organisation would be a social enterprise, but she is now exploring making it a more commercial enterprise. It’s at the very early stages, but Sandra says: “If women do not crack this we will for ever stay behind. We have a very small window to jump in.”

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