Women Are Taking Center Stage In Machine Learning

Here’s some excellent news: Roughly 53% of statisticians are women. 40% of BSc math degrees go to women, and 40% of bachelor degrees in one of the most demanding and well-paid analytics specialties, Actuarial sciences, go to women.

This  is up from 5.8% in 1978. Not bad.

So it is with some surprise that this isn’t common knowledge. Some say that it’s the fact that women are not well represented at conferences, giving the mis-impression that women are not well represented in the industry.

So how can we get more women involved in conferences?

Seeing is Believing...

When you think about a field that is all about data and crunching actual numbers, it’s hard to believe that women are actually so prevalent. As Meta S. Brown writes about the response to her article “The STEM Profession That Women Dominate

“A number of men, themselves data analysts of one stripe or another, told me I was wrong. They weren’t persuaded by the data I presented, and most offered no alternative data, but several did mention that they hadn’t seen a majority of women speaking at analytics conferences.”

But perception is a huge part of how we frame our decision trees. Even the most quaint folk rely heavily on intuition. So if we feel like we aren’t seeing enough women in Machine Learning, it’s hard to throw enough hard facts and statistics at the problem to change public perception.

Join a Women in Data Science Meetup

One way to encourage women to be more visible in the profession is to encourage women-centred Meetups and workshops. As Meta Brown notes, the Data Science Meetups that she attends are generally 20% female and can be intimidating.

Luckily, there are Women in Data Science and Machine Learning Meetups in most major cities now and these groups work to offer support, encouragement and mentoring opportunities for women in Data Science and Machine Learning.

Look for a Meetup such as the Toronto Women’s Data Group in your own town and join. The idea isn’t to segregate as much as to offer a space for women to feel encouraged and then venture out, together, into the wider community.

Perhaps the next step might be attending the Women in Machine Learning workshop.

Women in Machine Learning (WiML)

For over ten years, the Women in Machine Learning Workshop has helped bridge the gap and encourage solidarity among women in this field.

When Hannah Wallach learned that another woman, Jenn Wortman Vaughan, was attending a major machine learning conference, she was happy to have someone to share a hotel room with.

From that humble start, the two have grown the Women in Machine Learning Workshop to be a sold out event with major presenters and hundreds of attendees.

The focus is mainly on presenting the latest research, but the smaller size contributes to a friendlier atmosphere.

The group also maintains an informal, incomplete, and always growing directory of women in machine learning. The list is opt-in. Simply fill in the form if you feel you should be included. When you opt-in, your information will appear on the list.

Encouraging Women to Participate in Conferences

One reason for the misperception about women in analytics is that there are so few women on panels at conferences. In fact, in a non-scientific survey of 18 recent conferences, most had fewer than 25% women on panels.

A notable exception was the MLconfNYC (Machine Learning Conference New York City) conference, with 35% women. In fact, they have made a concerted effort to recruit women as speakers and panelists, growing from very few women in attendance and often no women speakers, to a high of 52.7% women in one recent year.

Working toward recruiting more women to speak and be on panels at conferences is one way to change perception and also encourage more women in the field.

Follow in the Footsteps...

Most accounts of women in Data Science and Machine Learning lean toward an atmosphere that is supportive, encouraging, and mentoring. Claudia Perlich wrote an excellent piece in Wired called, “Women in Data Science are Invisible. We Can Change That.” Her stance is that, first, being a women in this field has worked well for her. She’s been surrounded by mentors who have actively embraced and encouraged her need for a flexible work schedule, and who often remember her because she is a women. She can’t wait for the day when she will know that she was invited to a conference and she’ll know, for sure, that she wasn’t invited solely because she is a woman.

Her story is encouraging and uplifting- A woman in Data Science, at a startup, working hard to break through that invisibility cloak and help bring other women out into the spotlight as well.

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About the Author:

Wendy Kelly is a content strategist living and skiing in a small mountain town in British Columbia who enjoys storytelling and strategy. Imagine that. You can follow her at .

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Tags: business conferences, Conference, data science, Machine Learning, Meetups, Technology, women in machine learning, women in technology, workshop