Athena Pathways: The power of diverse perspectives

Athena Pathways works to help more Canadian women see the potential of the tech sector for their future career and how a tech career aligns with their skills and interests.

As part of the Digital  Supercluster’s Athena Pathways Project, the Society for Canadian Women in Science & Technology (SCWIST) used the unique initiative’s online job board to post a volunteer opportunity for a data visualizer. Fast-forward a few weeks and the organization had welcomed not one but three young women into various tech-related roles.

Like other projects in the Supercluster’s Capacity Building pilot program, Athena Pathways is helping Canadian tech companies fill job vacancies and become more competitive. In addition, this project is helping to ensure Canada’s innovation ecosystem has the capabilities, talent and infrastructure to create good jobs, drive economic growth and enhance the country’s reputation as a world-leading digital economy.

Tools for moving the needle

Led by MetaOptima, together with SCWIST, the Artificial Intelligence Network of BC, Careteam, D-Wave, KPMG, Teck Resources, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, the 18-month project is connecting 500 women to pathways into the tech sector.

For instance, the online job board lists dozens of tech-related opportunities. An education page features courses highlighting the basics of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science from the project’s academic partners, which are offering hundreds of scholarships; and a mentorship page matches applicants with career role models. Classes and workshops, meanwhile, mainly target female executives and leaders, while customized content and training is being delivered to girls in middle and high school.

“If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that joining forces with academic and industry partners is the best way to foster innovation and progress,” says Maryam Sadeghi, CEO and Co-founder of MetaOptima. “I can’t think of a better way to achieve progress than to create equal opportunities for women to get exposure to real-world experiences in the AI and tech industry while completing their academic training.”

Diversity inside and outside tech

As well as fostering many economic and social benefits, the participation of women in tech is important at a programming level, says SCWIST president Kelly Marciniw. “If AI programming lacks diverse perspectives, the computers will learn the same biases that cause problems in areas such as human resources and finance. Hiring programmers from a variety of different backgrounds helps to ensure that data sets don’t perpetuate many of the exclusionary issues society is working so hard to overcome.”

Wide-ranging perspectives also have tremendous value beyond the tech sector, says Jackie Scales, Teck Resources’ Director of Inclusion and Diversity.

“If you have too many of the same type of person in the room, you come to the same conclusions, and there’s less creativity and flexibility in looking at options. Our digital transformation team, for instance, includes mining experts, but we’re also pulling in people from oil and gas, public health and banking. Instead of only looking at ways to do mining from the perspective of miners, it’s about taking the best of what others are doing and making it work for us.”