Artificial Intelligence, Inclusivity & Diversity

Original article was published by Karolina Kolodziej on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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Share a bit about your background experience with gender and intersectionality? How did you get started and how has your journey evolved?

I really started thinking about gender when I was 25. I now realize I was (and still am) in a very privileged position, so I had the luxury of not needing to concern myself with the matter for quite a long time. I have always regarded myself as a very sensitive person, I was certainly not a male chauvinist, and I developed a progressive mindset as I grew up. Still, I said and did things that I now see were inappropriate. I occasionally heard stories from my girlfriend or female friends about how they felt unsafe when walking alone around the city or having been actually molested in public places but I failed to really connect with them. I either regarded them as exaggerations or unfortunate accidents.

My mindset started changing when I grew closer with the LGBTQI movement and I met lots of people with a much more diverse experience than my own. I started listening to the stories people told me and when I heard my inner voice saying “yes but…” I learnt to silence it and focus on what I was being told. That was a transformative experience. I understood how little I knew about gender and gender related issues and I started educating myself. I saw with my own eyes the power of intersectionality. I even contributed to the creation of a local movement for civil rights in my city, a very conservative and provincial place.

After that, I never stopped on my journey.

What advice do you have for anyone interested in making a change and building inclusive tech products?

Basically, educate yourself. The more privilege you have, the less conscious you tend to be about it and so the instinctive reaction when you come in contact with different experiences and points of view is to dismiss them as partial or flawed or untrue and that prevents you from being actually inclusive. When you are ready to listen, when you have silenced your inner dismissing voice, start reading books, watching videos, talking to people and so on and so forth. Do whatever you feel more congenial but do it a lot and force yourself to broaden the set of voices you listen to. I have improved a lot just by following the right set of people on Twitter. I use it extensively, as it is the de-facto main channel for tech content and that allows me to be up to date with the community every day. I started following my hero engineers (of course, everyone was basically a western white male) but I was lucky that many of them knew the issue of intersectionality and shared the contributions of a much more diverse set of individuals, whom I then followed directly. So, as time passed, I ended up with a nice mix of inputs and perspectives in my feed and I have read some stunning and transformative stories that really helped me.

Which resources or people had the biggest impact on you regarding the topic of intersectionality and gender?

In terms of resources, I was particularly impressed by the book “Invisible women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men”; the title is quite telling but it basically opened my eyes on many small and big issues (we could say design flaws) of our society in a very broad sense; I also appreciated the argumentative style and the non-ideological point of view of the author.

I recently saw a stunning Ted talk from 2012 by researcher Peggy McIntosh: “How to recognize your white privilege and use it to fight inequality” which profoundly resonated with me, especially when she explains how she first resisted the notion she had privilege: “I worked hard to get where I am, nobody has helped me or gifted me my position” and then later realized 50 things she could count on that others couldn’t just by the virtue of being white. She says: “you should not feel guilty about your privilege, you didn’t ask for it, but you should be conscious you have it and use it to fight inequalities” and I find this so true and powerful.

I am really fond of experiments and visualizations that help us realize important ideas at a glance, like “Filter out male privilege, and the web can be a ghost town”.

Twitter can be a gold mine of disruptive and transformative stories that people share with great courage. I still vividly remember a thread of women telling how they were sexually abused and how they did not report anything out of fear or, even worse, were not believed when they told their families or the cops. I cried and yet I was not able to stop reading. I was devastated but I felt I grew up a lot after that and I cannot even begin to understand how much pain they experienced.

In terms of people, they are too many to be written here, so I’ll just say the most significant ones for my journey: Estelle Weyl and Sara Soueidan whom I met in person at a tech conference in Bologna, Erika Joy Baker Cher Scarlett Tatiana Mac, whom I deeply admire.

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What motivates you to make change?

The feeling I felt when I was surrounded by people that for the first time in my life really accepted me and loved me for the person I am. I have never forgotten it, it gives me strength and compels me to do my best so that others can feel it too. I also remember pretty well how awful I felt before that moment and I want to do everything in my power so that others don’t experience something like that. The passion I put in trying to make change does not derive from some high and abstract ideal, I have realized that when I do something that makes me or my work more inclusive I am basically in the process of healing the part of myself that was so badly hurt back then; so my motives might be quite egotistical but I have accepted it and do what I can to get the best out of it.

Which article, podcast, book or a person inspired you lately?

I keep reading right now: It’s from an author I already mentioned, Tatiana Mac, and it’s focused on the issues of racism; it was motivated by the recent protests after the murder of George Floyd in the United States. The subtitle is “If you are a white guy and you don’t know what to do beyond donate and being quiet, I made you a list.” and the post is basically a collection of resources I am slowly reading and reflecting upon. I have found many of the elements I described in my journey towards intersectionality: listen, educate yourself, deeply understand the myriad of ways privilege and inequality creep in your everyday life and the life of minorities and then find a way to change the status quo.

Thank you 😊