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Our Work

A seat at the table: equality, diversity & inclusion.

by Tajhame Francis

Diversity without inclusion can be isolating.

Inclusion without diversity can be restrictive.

Diversity with inclusion brings a holistic perspective and opportunities. It provides an opportunity to be comfortable being uncomfortable, building with others in mind and creating a business or product that is relatable. It is the blueprint for a business to transcend the times and drive the working culture forward.

In my career, as a black man who is a data scientist, I’ve found I have had to work extra hard.

At the heart of this has been a covert battle against pre-conceived assumptions. In the past, I compensated subconsciously by speaking in a higher tone and being deliberate with my words so that I could show I was an individual and not a stereotype. Ironically, by doing this I did the opposite; I muzzled my personality to fit into the cultural norm. This is exhausting. Not being discouraged when some find my academic credentials and profession surprising. Wrestling with the feeling that my opinions and contributions are not seen in the same light as my white counterparts. These have been a constant battle.

In my career, as a black man who is a data scientist, I’ve found I have had to work extra hard.

Over time, after careful self-reflection and the help of my family, I realised that these were mostly driven by painful, personal experiences of discrimination and covert racism. In response, I had to provide myself the time to heal and learn about myself. I have come to understand that being a black man who is good at what he does, in a field where I am underrepresented, adds value.

In this rapidly evolving information age, there are occasions where information itself can provide a learning moment for society. One instance that comes to mind happened four years ago. When you compared the results of a Google image search for “3 black teenagers” and “3 white teenagers”, the difference in results were insightful.

The first returned mugshots of black teens, the second showed you family-friendly stock photos.

At the time when this went viral, people branded Google as racist – I however do not believe this to be true. I do not even think the search algorithm was racist. In fact, it was returning the most popular images that had tags associated to the search term. The mugshots were mostly from news sites, the stock photos from stock photography. Why is the most common association for a black teen to be in a mugshot on the news? Why are white teenagers the most common choice for a sellable photo?

The search terms were coloured by race, thus reflecting a deeper societal issue. An issue of prejudice and racial stereotypes. The shock factor of the glaringly different results created an opportunity for society to be challenged.

Being a black man who is good at what he does, in a field where I am underrepresented, adds value.

I believe the world of AI and Machine Learning provides a plethora of these opportunities for insight and learning. It is therefore important that there is a diverse pool of practitioners so that we will be able to identify more of these moments. Diversity of thought, races, genders, orientation, and the experiences that come with that are required for us to create effective, pragmatic solutions to deep-rooted problems.

A necessary step to seeing this is having difficult conversations about diversity at all levels. We have started.

If you'd like to continue the conversation or discuss your personal experiences of diversity and inclusion, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

This blog features in the September issue of Aiimi Insights as part of 'Workplace Matters', a dedicated place for thought-leadership around equality, diversity and inclusion in the tech workplace. To be first to hear about more blogs like this one, sign up for Aiimi Insights.

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