Reading about an industry dominated by ‘tech bros’ ignited a passion in me to do something about it
I first encountered Women in AI (WAI) at the World Summit AI in Amsterdam in 2019 but it wasn’t till 2022 when I connected with Marissa Tschopp, WAI Global’s Chief Research Officer, during our planning for the Scottish AI Summit that I actually engaged further with WAI as an organisation.
So what is it? In a nutshell, it is a non-profit do-tank and community with the mission to shape inclusive AI for our common future. It is a community-based organisation with a strong passion for action that connects, upskills and drives the discourse towards a more equitable playing field. Founded in 2016 in Paris, what initially started as a small Facebook group has grown into a powerful community with more than 8,000 members (and counting) in 140 countries. Its activities take a three-pronged approach: educate, inspire and connect.
After meeting Marissa, I was then introduced to the incredible Toju Duke, the Ambassador to the newly-relaunched Women in AI UK chapter and several video meetings later, I was on-boarded to the leadership team for the UK chapter as the regional lead for Scotland and here I am writing about bringing Women in AI activities to Scotland.
At this point, I’m pretty sure you are wondering who I am? I’m Steph Wright and I work at The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI. I joined the Data Lab in 2017 to deliver the Cancer Innovation Challenge, a £1M project bringing three innovation centres together to encourage innovation with data to improve cancer care in Scotland (final report now available). I then went on to lead Data Lab’s engagement with healthcare and then I was asked to work with the Scottish Government on developing Scotland’s national AI strategy. I have a diverse background that started with astrophysics, via film and TV production, then arts management, then genomics, carbon capture and storage and now data and AI.
I currently head up the Scottish AI Alliance, a partnership between The Data Lab and the Scottish Government and our task is to deliver the actions outlined in Scotland’s AI Strategy to achieve its vision for Scotland to be a leader in the development and use of trustworthy, ethical and inclusive AI. A vision that perfectly chimes with the mission of Women in AI.
I embarked on a personal learning journey a few years back which started with the amazing book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. This really opened my eyes and tapped into my inner feminist rage. Then it was a whole slew of thought-provoking and fascinating books by female authors that included:
The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon (ARGH!)
Mother of Invention by Katharine Marçal (tear down the patriarchy!)
Brotopia by Emily Chang (Tech bros are the worst)
The End of Bias by Jessica Nordell (This book I tell everyone about. It was a profound read for me – A deep dive into bias and its complexities)
Atlas of AI by Kate Crawford (Learn to look beyond the technology)
Technology is not neutral by Stephanie Hare (a must read)
All of the above ignited a fire in me to do more, to open the world of tech and data and AI to more people, to challenge the lack of diversity and inclusion in the status quo, just do… more… But I had no idea where to start. I talked to anyone who would listen, I spoke at events, joined panels and tried to speak up wherever I could. So when I met Marissa and spoke about Women in AI, I thought yes, this is how I can do more. There are many incredible and inspiring women like her delivering WAI activity across the world and we can do the same in Scotland!
The focus for the Scotland region will be to build a community of women in AI to inspire and inform women and marginalised communities in Scotland on the potential for AI to positively benefit society and the economy and showcase the AI sector as a potential career path.
We aim to reach audiences across industry, academia, public and third sectors. We want to ensure that adjacent industries and sectors are represented across all activities. We want to emphasise that the term “Women in AI” does not just mean people who code but can include a whole range of roles in the sector that are not fully technical i.e. project and programme managers, product managers, policy specialists, marketers, business support, tech writers, instructional designers, educators etc.
We will do this through building a community in Scotland which can then interact with the wider Women in AI UK community. We will set up a community, hold events and launch a mentoring scheme amongst other exciting activities. We also want to connect with like-minded groups such as Women in Tech, Girl Geeks, Women in Data Science, Women Who Code etc and collaborate.
We plan to have a launch event at DataFest 2022 so here’s my call to action!
Come join me and help me deliver WAI activity in Scotland! I’ll be assembling a core team but we’ll also need a wider group of volunteers! So please get in touch with me (email@example.com) if you want to get involved!