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December 18, 2020
This week in our WiCipedia roundup: The future of ethics in AI; why minorities don't want to stay in tech; pandemic's effects on women at work; and more.
Last week we talked about ex-Google AI researcher Timnit Gebru who was fired from the company after digging into the ethics behind advances in AI. An article from the Thomson Reuters Foundation asked an important follow-up question: What does the future of AI look like if researchers aren't allowed to look into the repercussions of the technology on minorities? Gebru is a Black woman who co-founded the nonprofit Black in AI and is also "one of the top AI ethics researchers in the entire world," according to a colleague – if there were anyone who should be looking into the effects of AI on minorities, it sounds like it would be her. After her firing, there has been concern that while minorities are hired to fill quotas, they aren't necessarily there to represent their demographics. "As a Black woman, these companies know the work you do, and the communities you care about, and they want the validation you bring to their business," said Aerica Shimizu Banks, another former Google employee. "But they don't actually want you to do that work – they want you to look like you are doing it." (See WiCipedia: Minority numbers in STEM studies still lag.) Figure 1: AI will be easier when we all look like robots (Source: Pixabay)
We hear a lot about the "pipeline problem" in tech, which supposedly limits the percentage of minorities who make their way into the industry. Yet many believe that the phrase might actually be BS, according to CIO Dive. On a panel, Girls Who Code COO Tarika Barrett said the consensus was that the issue comes down to workplace culture, not education or desire to work in tech. While women and racial minorities may enter the industry, they don't necessarily want to stay in it. The heart of the issue lies in workplace culture. "You don't want to stay at a place where you don't see your trajectory, or you don't feel that you belong," Barrett said. Aarti Shah, SVP and chief information and digital officer at Eli Lilly & Company, continued, "Diversity is when you get invited to the party, but inclusiveness is when you actually get invited on the dance floor." (See WiCipedia: How to be a better ally.)
The COVID-19 pandemic created additional issues for women in the workplace (since we needed more) by pulling them in multiple directions that had little to do with the pipeline or workplace culture, CNET explains. As primary caregivers, many women had to take time away from work or leave entirely in 2020 as they were needed by their families. In fact, the latest Intel diversity report shows that the numbers of women at the company and in tech roles specifically fell slightly this year. While we can't conclusively say why that happened, it's likely pandemic related. "In September, McKinsey published its annual Women in the Workplace report, sounding the alarm about women considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce to compensate for the added responsibilities and stressors brought about by the pandemic," the article explains. While flexible work arrangements may certainly help, they don't resolve the cultural issue of women primarily being in charge of family affairs and care. (See WiCipedia: Coming back stronger post-COVID.)
Yet that doesn't mean it's any less important for women to work in tech roles right now. TechRepublic spoke with Advancing Women in Product's (AWIP) CEO, Nancy Wang, who explained that it's never been more important to ensure that women enter the industry and stay there – both for the benefit of individuals and companies. There's no question that diversity positively impacts the bottom line of businesses, but it's certainly more difficult during a global pandemic to network, find a mentor and find balance. If you're interested in some expert-level tips from AWIP – from creating affinity groups to sharing responsibilities with a partner to advancing into leadership roles when you're the only one in your demographic, make sure to give this interview a read. (See WiCipedia: Is there an alternative to imposter syndrome?)
Special Features & Copy Editor
Eryn Leavens, who joined Light Reading in January 2015, attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before earning her BA in creative writing and studio arts from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. She also completed UC Berkeley Extension's Professional Sequence in Editing.
She stumbled into tech copy editing after red-penning her way through several Bay Area book publishers, including Chronicle Books, Counterpoint Press/Soft Skull Press and Seal Press. She spends her free time lifting heavy things, growing her own food, animal wrangling and throwing bowls on the pottery wheel. She lives in Alameda, Calif., with two cats and two greyhounds.
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