The event, held in Stockholm, was launched on International Women’s Day in 2014 and has since become a movement to inspire women to choose careers in technology and media. The movement also illuminates a community which supports women already working within the industry by providing a platform for women and men to share their advice and experiences from within the sector.
It is apparent why a movement like WIT is necessary; statistics and surveys show that around 46% of the women in the tech industry have considered giving up their careers because of the challenges they face.
The main purpose of this year’s event was to promote diversity and inclusion in the technology world. Through presentations, inspirational talks and engaging sessions, Women in Tech leveraged technology in different forms to emphasize the fact that women can and must be part of the tech field to make the environment more inclusive, no matter someone’s origin, gender and beliefs.
The conference started with an inspirational keynote from Sandra Alba Cauffman, ‘From Costa Rica to Mars: Reach, Strive, Achieve’. She narrated her inspirational life story explaining how a girl from a humble family in Costa Rica went from dreaming about travelling to space to becoming the Deputy Director of the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
It was nothing other than Cauffman’s sheer determination and persistence that enabled her success – many people thought her career would simply be unattainable for a woman. Cauffman faced challenges along the way; while studying, she started working at an early age to support her family. She wished to attend university to study Electrical Engineering however she was refused a place on the course as she was told “it was not a suitable engineering field for women”. Cauffman ended up studying Industrial Engineering at the University of Costa Rica. She spent seven semesters studying a subject she didn’t enjoy. Then she moved her studies to the George Mason University in northern Virginia and double majored in Electrical Engineering and Physics. It had taken her seven years to attain what many others had achieved in much less time. Cauffman conveyed a very important message to the attendees; do not be afraid to take a step back as it really doesn’t matter how long it takes for you to reach the dream.
Cauffman started working at NASA as a contract employee and gradually became a permanent employee. She has been working for NASA for 31 years. Cauffman briefed the audience about her work at NASA, including the technical synopsis of one of the major project, for which she served as the Deputy Director, the ‘Mission of Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution of Mars’.
Cauffman explained that she has faced many challenges throughout her career, having been told ‘no’ many times and having had many doors slammed in her face. However, she explained that there had also been ‘angels’ who helped her along the way.
She urged the women in the audience to learn to find their voices and make themselves heard the first time; many women have had experience of people instinctively listening to the man sitting next to them instead of listening to them.
Cauffman first dreamt about space travel when the first man set foot on the moon – she was only 7 years old. Her mother motivated and inspired her to dream at a young age. She explained that it’s too late to direct the younger generation to STEM fields once they’ve already reached high school. Cauffman believes that the love for science should be grown from a very early age.
Next up, during her session, Tonima Afroze asked ‘Are Machine Learning Models Racist?’. Machine Learning is the study of algorithms and statistics to predict situations and it uses biases to find differences and to categorise the information. What would happen if the algorithm models were racist or sexist? Software Engineer at Klara, Tonima’s Master’s dissertation (which she studied for at the University of Oxford) looked at fairness bias in machine learning and presented a list of examples about how machine learning can be unreliable when an unfair bias is used in its algorithm and how it can result in wrong discriminations. When discriminated data is used, the algorithms can lead to unfair bias.
She mentioned mistakes committed in the recent past when a company used an algorithm to check potential candidates for a job and one of its criteria in the algorithm was to consider an employment gap in a CV as a bad thing; many women were filtered out because women tend to have more parental leave than men. Another famous example was Tay.ai, the machine that could learn how to interact as a human through tweets on Twitter but became racist and sexist after 24h and had to be shut down.
Tonima presented a number of ways to avoid fairness bias:
· Be critical about the data sources used.
· Discuss when data with unusual biases are found.
· Think about what kind of groups will benefit and which will be harmed when the system is designed the way it is.
· Have a diverse group of people to develop these systems. People tend to pattern something that they would like to use. This again amplitudes the importance of diversity and inclusion in all domains of work
· Involve social scientists as they have more experience in dealing with these issues which are new to the tech field.
‘Can a 100-year old outrun a startup’ – in this session the host, Electrolux, explained how they, a 100-year-old Swedish multinational home appliance manufacturer, along with the Swedish born startup Karma has collaboratively launched a smart refrigerator that could be installed in supermarkets to help sell food outside of opening hours; food that is good quality but has not been purchased before the end of the workday and could potentially be thrown away.
This innovative solution to reduce food waste unites Electrolux’s proficiency in food preservation together with Karma’s technology and knowledge of food waste management. This sustainable solution was born as a result of Design Thinking process which is a non-linear, iterative process which seeks to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. The method consists of 5 phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
Currently, the connected refrigerator is in its beta version and has been introduced at some ICA stores for a trial run. The refrigerator efficiently creates storage and a pickup point for unsold food that would otherwise be thrown away, as well as enabling grocery stores that don’t have a natural pickup location to use Karma. Find out more about Karma.
Finally, Sarah Cooper came in and taught the female audience How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings. She introduced herself as a writer, comedian, speaker, drawer and general trash-talker. She built her comedy career in between working for companies like Yahoo! and Google. Sarah hosts the weekly podcast Unprofessional, writes a monthly column for the Financial Times and co-hosts the monthly stand-up comedy show, You’re So Brave.
At the end of her keynote, Sarah asked the audience what they felt about her thoughts. Most listeners found it very funny as they could relate to most of the situations. Some women felt Sarah’s anecdotes were a reality, even now. Many felt angered about this unfairness and explained that they wanted to stand against it.
As a whole, it was a well-organized event presenting up to date technology and addressing current social issues. The necessity of diversity and inclusion resonated very well throughout the entire session and panel discussions. WIT is open to anyone who believes that tech inclusive should be as inclusive as possible to enable talent to make life simply better.
Learn more about WIT here https://www.womenintech.se/