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WiCipedia: AI for Social Good & a Fitbit Fail for Women

Eryn Leavens

This week in our WiCipedia roundup: Gender diversity in AI; female entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa; Fitbit fails women with new feature; and more.

Join Women in Comms for a breakfast workshop and networking at the NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver on September 26. The workshop is open to all women and men in the telecommunications, STEM and IT fields – communications service providers get in free!

  • The second annual AI For Social Good Lab initiative, a collaboration between the OSMO Foundation, McGill's Reasoning and Learning Lab, the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms and DeepMind, kicked off in Montreal, The McGill Tribute explains. The project's goal is to increase the number of women working in artificial intelligence (AI) by giving 30 female Canadian college students the opportunity to use AI to tackle a social issue. "All of us in AI, or science more generally, recognize that we should do a lot of work to increase diversity in our field," Diane Precup, one of the event organizers, said. "It's not just good for society, it's also good for our discipline [...and] our research. This is a first step, but we hope that there will be a voyage in machine learning for everyone here." (See WiCipedia: Jobs That Matter, Fembot Overlords & Tech Aids in Work-Life Balance.)

  • Fitbit is the latest company to come under fire for a feature intended for women that was clearly created by men. The Next Web reports that the activity-monitoring app and device allows users to track menstrual cycles, but only if they fit within a window of ten days or less. This belatedly released feature also clearly doesn't reflect the range of hormones that women may experience, as it only allows users to choose from five menstruation symptoms. Fitbit users on social media and online forums have questioned who exactly created this feature -- apparently not a woman. One user wrote in an online forum, "Locking the entire female population into a 10 day period makes me wonder how many women were involved in creating this feature... please fix." This is a prime example of why diversity matters when creating products intended for a wide range of consumers. (See Why Diversity of Geeks in Tech Matters.)

    Fitbit Fail

  • We've talked a lot before about the dearth of women at tech conferences, though we haven't seen a whole lot about how to improve the gender ratio at conferences, or what to do when you're the only women in a conference hall. Quartz published an article recently about this very issue. Considering "90% of [high-level women who work in tech] said they have witnessed sexist behavior offsite and at industry conferences," it's an important topic to tackle. The article stresses the need for a "conference code of conduct that emphasizes sexual harassment, demeaning comments, stalking, and intimidation will not be tolerated," along with an on-site anti-harassment officer. There should be a designated conference location for discussing issues related to gender, along with including it in more mainstream locations. Additionally, featuring plenty of female keynoters should be a priority, and there should be discounts and childcare for female attendees. If these ideas were all implemented, this would be a pretty kick-ass conference. (See WiCipedia: Programmer Motivators, Affordable Childcare & All-Female Panels and WiCipedia: Best Places to Work & Restroom Lines Tell All.)

  • Female entrepreneurs are few and far between, yet an unlikely location sees them in higher percentages than expected. The Sierra Leone Times says that sub-Saharan Africa has some of the highest rates of women who are entrepreneurs -- some countries reach nearly 35%, which is a global high. But there's a caveat: "Most of these businesses tend to have no employees and have low growth expectations: they are, for the most part, one-woman enterprises oriented to consumers," a CNN report explains. While women in Africa are starting businesses at higher rates, it seems they simply don't have the resources or support in order to get off the ground to become fully fledged self-sustaining businesses. (See WiCipedia: Tech in Africa, Female CEOs & Bingeworthy TV.)

  • A blog post on Jisc tackles the topic of gender dysphoria in the workplace, and how transitioning from one gender to another can change how co-workers treat someone. Chloe Gilbert, a male-to-female developer and architect, documents her 27 years working in IT and how her experience shifted when she fully transitioned. She writes, "At the start of my transition, I was overlooked a lot more in meetings, something that genuinely surprised me. I've even noticed it happening to other women ... Unconscious bias is also very real -- and I've been really surprised how some people assumed that since transitioning, my technical knowledge has somehow been removed." Gilbert has some great tips in the blog about how to support yourself or someone else during a transition. (See WiCipedia: Open Office Fishbowls & Trans Women in Tech.)

    — Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, Light Reading

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