Increasing British Columbia’s capacity in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Science (AI/ML/DS) is of strategic business, economic, and social importance today and will only get more important in the future as every major industry is deeply affected by AI/ML/DS. And yet, BC faces a major challenge in developing its workforce to sustain competitiveness: women are highly underrepresented in this field.
Gender imbalance is an urgent issue in Artificial Intelligence
Women comprise approximately 20% of the tech industry workforce in BC, below the national average of 25%. In universities, women earn 50% of bachelor degrees but only 18% of computer science degrees, and the percentage has been dropping over 30 years. Gender imbalance is a threat to the performance of AI technology because models are algorithms fitted to data, and diversity is a critical part of accurate models. Meanwhile, numerous studies show that financial performance significantly lags in companies that lack diversity.
Athena’s solution to the gender imbalance problem
Led by the Artificial Intelligence Network of BC (AInBC) and industry players MetaOptima, Teck, Careteam, KPMG, SCWIST, and D-Wave, Athena Pathways is a partnership with the Digital Technology Supercluster, University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and Northeastern University. The project partners aim to increase BC’s pool of scientific and technical expertise and make it more inclusive, while delivering real value in the form of trained interns, workers and executives to businesses currently starved of talent.
“BCIT is well known for its challenging, applied technological programs. In Computing, like the tech industry itself, is highly male dominated. We are excited to work within the Athena consortium to help introduce females to the exciting opportunities of emerging AI fields,” said Dean Hildebrand, Dean, School of Computing and Academic Studies.
Sue Paish, CEO of Digital Supercluster added, “The Digital Technology Supercluster is excited to support the AInBC’s Athena Pathways project. The Capacity Building Program creates opportunities for Canadian women to be skilled and job-ready so that our resources, traditional and non-traditional sectors can continue to leverage the opportunities digital transformation delivers.”
Under this program, the four educational institutions are developing courses and workshops in AI/ML/DS for women at the high school, post-secondary and career levels. Over 300 scholarships are available to women who enroll in these courses. In addition, the corporate consortium partners, along with dozens of other hiring partners in industry, are providing internships, full time positions and mentorships to women in AI.
Athena’s goal of enrolling 500 women in this program could approximately double the number of women currently working for industry in these fields today. In doing so, this has the potential to deliver $2.7 million in direct, quantifiable benefits to the economy.
Courses, scholarships, internships and mentorships are now open for applications at AthenaPathways.org.
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The consortium members of Athena Pathways are: