I was one of six Elsevierians who attended the Women in Technology Summit (WITS) for the Northeastern region. If you were there, you probably saw me behind the camera livestreaming and photographing various events. I met fascinating people there – intelligent, ambitious and not afraid to speak their minds. Here are my main takeaways from the event. Please share yours in the comments.
1. There are practical – and pressing – reasons we need more women in technology.
It’s not just about being fair to women and making sure they have the same opportunities for tech jobs. It’s about what we’re trying to accomplish with technology – and how women are uniquely able to help us accomplish those things.
As Dr. Helena Deus, Director of Disruptive Technologies at Elsevier, pointed out in her workshop, Tech Trends: Machine Learning and AI:
AI and machine learning are about to launch us into a revolution the scale of the Industrial Revolution – and to avoid bias, we need more women writing the algorithms.
She went on to give several practical examples, including how corporations are using AI software to screen job applicants:
A warning to all of us, who love tech and would like our resumes to be evaluated fairly when we apply for jobs. If AI is being used to decide who is hired into technology roles and care is not taken to balance the dataset, it will be likely that the AI bot will reject your resume because it has learned that the gender is highly correlated with whether someone is hired into a tech role. Simple changes to the training set, such as removing any information that might denote gender – may allow for much fairer hiring practices.
You can watch her presentation here:
And here are her slides:
2. Technology drives all aspects of our work.
Increasingly, technology is an integral part of what we do, from product design and management to finance, customer support, project management, marketing and communications. And companies are employing technologists of all kinds to work in different parts of the company.
For example, in her workshop, Natalie Hirsch, Director of Product Management for WizeHive, focused on best practices for gathering and managing the influx of data and feedback product managers must analyze in order to prioritize features.
At Elsevier, we employ technologists in a wide range of fuctions. A key area for us is product development. We create tools that help clinicians find the best treatments for patients at the point of care. We have platforms that help researchers find the information they need quickly, from the latest scientific research relevant to their work, to collaborators around the world or their next career. We use adaptive learning to help students in the health professions master their subject matter. And universities and governments use our data and analytics tools decide which research to fund.
The technologists who build these tools use techniques like machine learning, NLP and neural networks, and they work closely with our people who are experts in the fields they are creating for.
At WITS, you may have met Software Engineer Beth Dickerson and User Experience Specialist Meghan Kelly, who both work for Elsevier’s Clinical Solutions group in Philadelphia. This team develops products healthcare professionals use to access evidence-based content at the point of care.
3. “Accessibility is usability” — and it’s everybody’s business.
Closing my eyes doesn’t make me blind. Closing my eyes doesn’t make me the person I’m developing for.
By sharing the clever observation of her blind colleague, presenter Adina Halter conveyed a reality about web accessibility – that it’s a sophisticated field based on a deep understanding of people with disabilities and how they work. And that too often, it’s an afterthought for people – a focus they assume is the sole domain of a company’s accessibility specialists.
But Adina, who is Chief Technologist for Accessibility at Comcast NBCUniversal, showed that accessibility should be everybody’s concern – and that following best practices can result in a better experience for all users. (In her words, “Accessibility is usability.”)
This was a fascinating (and accessible) workshop about a topic we’re passionate about at Elsevier: developing accessibly for the web. This means developing for people with disabilities ranging from blindness and dyslexia to neurological disorders that prevent them from using a computer “the usual way.” Adina demonstrated what can go wrong when we don’t use best practices for web accessibility.
There is much to understand about web accessibility that may not be apparent to even experienced developers much less everyday users. For example, that flashing widget on your website can trigger an epileptic seizure. And not structuring your headers properly – for example, having more than one H1 or using header types to control size instead of hierarchy of ideas – can wreak havoc on the output of a screenreader as well as making it impossible for a search engine to interpret your content effectively. (Adina suggested creating an outline for your headers, “like your English teacher taught you.”)
But how is your everyday blog contributor supposed to know how important header structure is? That’s where education comes in. People across an organization should be aware of usability best practices, from UX and web design teams to branding and product groups and individual CMS and blog users. Adina recommended educating users regularly on accessibility practices and suggested lunch-and-learns. For a global company, that could also mean webinars and stories for the employee news site. At Elsevier, our Digital Accessibility Team team works with people throughout the organization to continually update and implement accessibility features in our website and products. Meanwhile, the team behind our website makes sure employees who develop or create content for the website understand best practices.
You can watch Adina’s presentation here:
4. Women in tech are writing their own career scripts.
As professionals in demand, women in technology often have the opportunity to apply their skills to careers that incorporate their own interests.
That’s the case for Tracey Welson-Rossman, Lizz Hill, Jessica Sant and Jocelyn Harper — the four entrepreneurial women on the panel Innovate Yourself – Technology does not stand still and neither should you: Tech careers for now and the future. They revealed their paths in technology and how they carved out niche careers that combine their talents and passions.
For Lizz, that meant channeling her longtime love of textile development and accessory design into a career at Tapestry Inc, where she oversees a small team responsible for the technical design and 3D prototyping of hardware and jewelry for the Coach, Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade brands.
For Jocelyn, who has been designing web pages since her teens, that has meant finding new and different ways to combine her love for web development and solving complex problems. After spending two years as a Java developer for JPMorgan chase, she works for the Philly-based agency O3 World, where she is “honing her skills as a full-stack developer and finding a love for DevOps.”
You can watch their panel here:
At Elsevier, as an information analytics company specializing in science and health, we have some tech colleagues who are specifically interested in scientific research, engineering, medicine or related fields, and they develop tools to help these professionals work more effectively. And we have other tech colleagues who are motivated mainly by the technology. Our tech jobs are extremely diverse, ranging from web development, user experience and software engineering to data science and computational linguistics.
5. Philly is a kick-ass tech hub.
OK, we already knew this at Elsevier – one of our major tech hubs is in Philly. Still, I was surprised and impressed with the broad range of local tech talent at this event, and their energy and vision.
For example, three of the four young women in the Innovate Yourself video above are based in Philly. And in the workshop The Philly Special: Embrace Tech Trends to Strengthen Your Leadership Skills, Philadelphia-based tech leaders Brigitte Daniel Corbin, Stephanie Cramp, Suzanne Keenan, Eloise Young and Michelle Puiadas shared the lessons the learned on their unique paths to leadership.
Inspired by the people they met at the summit, two of our own Philly tech colleagues – Beth and Meghan – made this impromptu video to let people know that we’re seeking tech talent at Elsevier:
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