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Increasing Data Science and AI Diversity

03 September 2020
- by Animesh Trivedi, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at VU Amsterdam and the department’s diversity officer

As one of the most diverse cities in Europe, Amsterdam has the potential to be a front-runner in diversifying its academic and corporate workforce. However there is still much improvement to be made reaching gender parity, let alone effectively reflecting the city’s diverse population in those working in STEM fields.

Amsterdam is home to 180 different nationalities and 45% of the population belong to ethnic minorities [1]. The region is a melting pot of different cultures, bringing together people with different socio-economic backgrounds, religions, (dis-)abilities, sexual preferences, genders, and ages. This diversity is palpable, where one can hear numerous languages on the metro, taste food from all over the world and join cultural associations or clubs with sports from all continents. This was one of the first things I noticed when I moved here one and half years ago. However, despite the diverse population, the proportion of minority representation in STEM education and research (within Amsterdam and beyond) is still very much a work in progress. In a diverse region such as Amsterdam, its population should be reflected in the academic and corporate workforce. 

The need for diversity

Pushing for more diversity goes beyond achieving better scores in a ranking. Research has shown that diverse working groups are more productive, attract more diverse talent, and are better perceived (for investment and clients) from outside than monolithic groups [2] [3]. A good understanding of diversity is needed to build a sustainable knowledge economy [4]. Furthermore, we are at a crossroads where data driven technologies are shaping many aspects of our daily lives such as law enforcement, autonomous driving, personalized medicine, and healthcare. It is vital that data-driven tools, algorithms, and frameworks are fair and free of potential biases and discrimination [5]. One way to achieve this is to include a multitude of experiences, outlooks, and expectations in the system development process through team diversity. 

The inaugural 2020 ADS Thesis Awards

After joining VU last year, when I started to interact with students at the VU, one of the students quipped “it is good to see another person from India as a staff member!”. Though an innocuous statement, it made me realize the power of representation to promote diversity.

To promote diversity and excellence in Data Science and AI research in the Amsterdam area, Amsterdam Data Science has established the ADS Thesis Awards in two categories: BSc and MSc. Both categories have two awards (a total of four awards), where at least one of the winners in each, BSc and MSc, must be a woman or someone from an underrepresented minority. Our goal is to identify, encourage and promote diverse and talented students who could become the next masters, PhD, Post-docs, and Assistant Professors in your research group.

For more information about the awards: https://amsterdamdatascience.nl/events/thesis-awards/ 

The call for awards is open now and closes on 15th September: https://amsterdamdatascience.nl/news/call-thesis-awards-2020/ 

If you have more ideas about how to promote diversity and inclusiveness, or if you have any comments or experiences to share, please feel free to reach out to me at a.trivedi@vu.nl.

More information on how diversity and inclusion issues are being tackled at the HvA, UvA and VU Amsterdam.

 

References

[1] https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/living/about-living-in-amsterdam/people-culture/diversity-in-the-city  

[2] https://www.lnvh.nl/monitor2019/EN.html 

[3] World Economic Forum, The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/business-case-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/ 

[4] Research: When Gender Diversity Makes Firms More Productive,  https://hbr.org/2019/02/research-when-gender-diversity-makes-firms-more-productive

[5] https://www.amsterdamuas.com/carem/shared-content/publications/pure-archive/coping-with-international-migration-and-diversity.html 

[6] https://amsterdamdatascience.nl/a-practitioners-perspective-on-fairness-in-ai/

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