ACM womENcourage 2019 Gendering ICT Workshop

This month, on the ACM-W Europe social media, we are discussing topics in the domains of data science, AI, gender and ethics. The explosive growth in data science and machine learning roles hides a problematic dynamic: women occupy only a minority of these new positions. We firmly believe that it is time to address the connection between the lack of diversity in the AI community and bias in the technical products that are produced by the community.

The organisers of the Gendering ICT workshop were  Prof. Silvana Badaloni (University of Padova), Prof. Francesca A. Lisi (University of Bari), and  Prof. Lorenza Perini (University of Padova).  Silvana and Francesca wrote for us the key takeaways from their workshop. 


The workshop “Gendering ICT”, which took place on the 17th of September at the womENcourage conference, enjoyed a full room of approximately 60 participants. The workshop created a platform for the women in the computing profession and related technical fields to exchange knowledge and experience on gender issues.

Data concerning women in ICT fields indicate a strong under-representation of women in Europe and the U.S.A. and very slow career progression. Across 35 European countries, less than 20% of computer science graduates are women.

  • On the day of the workshop, we aimed to confront this problem which is common to all areas of STEM by trying to understand the role of stereotypes and images seen in the media influencing young women perceptions around ICT,
  • by facing the challenge of designing algorithmic methods that are free of social bias regarding gender and race
  • by exploring new communication languages for debate around gender bias in ICT, and the subsequent ethical issues this bias poses.

 

The workshop started with a presentation from Lorenza Perini, University of Padova, who showed how with the best intentions we can avoid cultural stereotypes and give a gender-equal message to the girls who want to enter this scientific field of study.

Then Silvana Badaloni, University of Padova, starting from the idea that gendering ICT does not only imply changing the numbers of women in Computer Science (CS)/Computer Engineering (CE) but also addressing the problem of including the gender dimension in the contents of CS/CE. She showed how tools, algorithms and devices that AI/Machine Learning develop and Robotics use are not gender-neutral.

This problem of Biased AI vs Biased Society was addressed by Gunay Kazimzade, Technical University of Berlin, with many examples and an experiment/game involving the audience to label manually a set of images as if they were training a classifier. The problem of Biased Machine Learning mainly arises as little attention is paid to how data are collected, processed and organized.


New languages for communicating gender issues in ICT was the subject of the talk of Francesca Alessandra Lisi (University of Bari). She illustrated the idea underlying the D.A.K.I.N.I. project developed by the collective AjaRiot of performing arts with the co-production of Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium (NTL) and with the patronage of the Italian Association for Artificial Intelligence (AIxIA).

All slides are available at this link:  http://www.di.uniba.it/~lisi/genderingICT/


Prado Nieto and Anna Ciampi, UNICC – United Nations International Computing Centre – were invited at the workshop to present the UN Plan for Gender Equality in ICT.

A wider discussion among participants on how to reach the intended goals closed the workshop.

The comments from the audience were very positive in terms of increasing awareness of the issues facing women in ICT. There is no doubt that we need more women in the field and more diversity, and we need all the support. One of the workshop participants commented:

I think that we have to “include” more men in this process of “feminilization”.

Indeed, involving more male participants to support diversity in ICT is one of the goals of the organizers next year for the womENcourage 2020. Hope to see you all in Azerbaijan next year.



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