As with most technology conferences in data science these days (including ML/IoT/etc…) the majority of talks were current, interesting, sometimes self-serving, but overall very insightful. So I will start by acknowledging that the organizers of the Big Data Innovation Summit in San Francisco this week did a nice job in assembling a group of speakers that reflected the current state of the industry in all things data science. However, I do have an issue with the blatant lack of female presenters over the course of the two day event. I admit that I did not attend every session over the two days, but I did attend the majority, and it was not until the afternoon of the second day that I heard a female speaker who was not acting as a moderator. In a time where we should be promoting the examples of female-led teams in Data Science and related areas of study, attending a conference that is located down the road from one of the world’s epicenters for data science talent and seeing such a lack of representation among the speakers is concerning.
The data science team that I lead at TWC/IBM is 60% female. While a small portion of my team is on board thanks to an IBM initiative specifically designed to recruit females into technology careers (which I have written about here), even without this program, there would still be roughly a 50/50 male-female split on my team. This is simply because I look to bring in the best associates for the positions that are available. And I know that in talking with other science/technology leaders in similar roles at other companies, while the distribution might not be as balanced as it is on my team, it certainly is not representative of what was seen at this event among the speakers. Further, a simple search of teams doing interesting and innovative things in data science will reveal that there is no shortage of high performing and innovative female-led teams in industry, academia and government.
There is no secret that gender bias exists in science and technology. However, a high profile event that is so one sided with respect to speaker gender is clearly sending the wrong message. Comments/thoughts are welcome.