On February 15, 2021, the Ethics Committee of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence hosted an online symposium on ‘Diversity and Inclusion in the AI Research Community’.
The Ethics Committee of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence organizes symposia and events around themes at the interface between AI and society. In the opening remarks by Ethics Committee member Arisa Ema, she referred to the importance of diversity and inclusion considering fairness in AI, explicitly mentioning the ‘Symposium on Machine Learning and Fairness‘ that the Ethics Committee had held on January 9, 2020. Given the issues of fairness in AI technology itself as well as social inequality, it is very important to focus on the diversity and inclusiveness of the research community of AI developers.
While outlining the goals of the event, Dr. Yoji Kiyota, the chair of the editorial committee of JSAI that organized this event, first introduced the special feature “Diversity and the AI Research Community” in the September 2020 issue of the journal ‘Artificial Intelligence’. This special feature contains seven articles on various issues related to diversity, such as gender (including LGBTQ), nationality, and assigning characters to AI agents (all articles are currently available for free on J-STAGE in Japanese). Changes in life events and the environment can suddenly place everyone in the position of a minority. Dr. Kiyota said that he hoped everyone would see the issues of diversity and inclusiveness as a “matter for everyone”.
“Case Study of Career Pathways to the IT Industry at Women’s Universities” Takayuki Itoh
Prof. Itoh, from the Department of Information Science, Faculty of Science, Ochanomizu University, introduced a survey on career paths to IT companies at the Ochanomizu University. In general, 80-90% of the students in the Department of Information Science are male. This suggests anxiety in female students regarding spending their university life in such an environment. Prof. Itoh pointed out that this could hinder female students who aspired to study information technology. The same applies to the day-to-day activities during the school year. Many female students want to take their first steps in women-only environments for events such as hackathons and competitive programming; creating such an environment would be effective. There is also an emphasis during job-hunting on whether the industry can flexibly respond to life events, and which needs to be addressed within the information technology industry.
Next, he mentioned the proposals for the AI research community that were discussed in the special issue. Steps need to be taken to approach high-school students, promote AI research as an interdisciplinary field, conduct individual networking for employment, approach non-information technology students, and continue to build a women’s community within the organization.
Finally, he mentioned two points considered after writing the special issue. The first was respecting the diversity of criteria for career choice. Not all university students necessarily choose their career paths based on “what they want to do”; other factors such as work-life balance are also important. Second, more individuals in science and engineering tend to be attracted to research and development centers than other fields. This limits the choice of work location and can be regarded as a challenge. There were concerns of this being a factor that tended to discourage women from science and engineering. He concluded his presentation by saying that it is important to aim for gender diversity when considering the future of the industry and that it is also important to carry out structural reforms.
“Towards a Society that Embraces Diversity: The Realities of Female Researchers” Mayumi Bono
Prof. Mayumi Bono, from the National Institute of Informatics, followed with a presentation on experiences in her life as a researcher, childbirth, and childcare. Ms. Bono has written several essays on this, covering a wide range of topics such as infertility treatment, pregnancy, maternity leave, and female researchers’ work during the coronavirus pandemic. She actively shares her personal experiences in the hope of encouraging and informing future female researchers, and her articles have attracted much attention.
After obtaining her doctorate, Prof. Bono worked as a postdoctoral researcher. At the age of 31, she was appointed as an assistant professor at the National Institute of Informatics with a five-year contract. In her first year, her research was selected for JST PRESTO Program (Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology), and the following year she became pregnant, gave birth, and took a five-month maternity leave. After her five-year term as an assistant professor, she was again appointed as an associate professor with a five-year contract. After that, she started planning for her second child, which she had postponed until she had found a tenure position, but she faced infertility issues. She tried timing therapy and artificial insemination but was unable to conceive. Because of her overseas research with the first child, she had to suspend the treatment for a year. After returning to Japan, she began IVF. After ten consecutive days of injections at the clinic for egg retrieval, self-injections at home, hysteroscopy, multiple egg retrieval, implantation, medication, Chinese medicine, and other treatments and tests, she gave birth to the second child in 2019. It took five years for her to have her second child. However, she continued her research activities during that time, and it was not easy to balance that with the treatment.
In her presentation, Prof. Bono pointed out that the timing of pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare overlaps with the career development of female students and researchers. She also pointed out the need for fostering an environment that brought awareness to female students and researchers about this, as well as the need for support from those around them.
To discuss women’s physical problems publicly, it is necessary to reform activities and what is “normal” for researchers. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased access to information, and research meetings and conferences that used to be conducted in person are now delivered online as well. The Info-WorkPlace Committee of the Information Processing Society of Japan, which Prof. Bono chairs, is currently working on a project (“Delivery Info”) to provide information to those who cannot attend the Society’s national conference for various reasons. Prof. Bono, herself a researcher on communication and accessibility, concluded her talk by saying it is crucial to create an environment where researchers under challenging situations and positions can have multiple options, such as easier access to research activities, including paper submission.
“Diversity and Inclusion in International Academic Societies: Through the Activities of IEEE WIE” Takako Hashimoto
Finally, Prof. Takako Hashimoto, from Chiba University of Commerce, presented the activities of Women in Engineering (WIE) of IEEE (the world’s largest technical professional organization headquartered in the United States). Prof. Hashimoto is the chairman of the Japan Council of IEEE and is also part of the Computer Society Board of Governor. She also served as the Chair of Women in Engineering in 2015-2016.
IEEE approximately has 420,000 members from more than 160 countries. The gender ratio of the IEEE is 70% male, 13.7% female, and the rest is unknown. However, looking only at Japan, with 4% women, 11.74% unknown, and more than 80% men, the ratio of women is very low.
The IEEE Board of Directors consists of 32 members, nine of which currently are women, around 30% of the total. The Board of Governors of the Computer Society, to which Prof. Hashimoto belongs, has 13 women (45%). In recent years, the number of female award winners of the IEEE technical awards, which used to be close to zero, has also increased. The WIE is an organization that supports such activities. The issue with both the Board of Directors and the award winners is that there are very few women at the application stage, so support is provided at the starting point. When it comes to diversity, in addition to gender, region is essential as well: 55% (25,000) of the members of WIE are from Asia. Indeed, Asia, including India and Malaysia, has a large number of women majoring in engineering. WIE was established in Japan in 2005 and has been holding events and conducting networking.
Prof. Hashimoto, who is active globally, pointed out that compared to other countries, Japan is a society where it is difficult to interrupt one’s career. For example, retirement and maternity leave tend to be disadvantageous, and there are constraints of age. It is important to increase the number of options that allow people to balance work and life according to life events. One of her expectations for AI and Informatics is to diversify the characteristics of the community through various tools such as online meetings. She concluded the talk by saying that it would be great if the organization and Japan as a whole could be moved towards making the most of individual abilities while collaborating with various academic fields.
Moderated by Dr. Kiyota, a panel discussion was held with the three aforementioned presenters.
First, they discussed the issues that arise due to low diversity. Prof. Hashimoto pointed out that the lack of diversity in members causes bias in the opinions and dissemination of information of an organization, and a lack of imagination. From her own experiences, Prof. Bono pointed out that there are situations where it is difficult to interrupt during men’s (the majority) excitement. It is an atmosphere in which it is difficult to contribute even when asked for the opinion of the minority. Prof. Itoh also raised the case of Ochanomizu Women’s University students, who often face harassment from outside the university. Prof. Itoh also talked about the importance of addressing diversity not only within organizations but also between different organizations, as well as discussing problems arising from low diversity within organizations.
Next, the panelists were asked what type of support is needed for women to be able to have a presence. Prof. Hashimoto acknowledged that it is not easy for female researchers, and mentioned the importance of stepping forward and applying for various organizations and awards. Prof. Itoh introduced an example of a Computer Science department of a university in the USA that has used its budget to raise the percentage of female students. Prof. Bono, who conducted overseas research while raising her child, spoke from her own experience about how increasing the flexibility of working styles, such as adjusting meeting times, would improve the life-work balance not only for women but for everyone.
Prof. Hashimoto proposed that the research community should further utilize information tools such as online conferences. In doing so, it is also important that the tools are easy to use for people with disabilities. Prof. Bono also commented that the screen-sharing online conference tools currently in use are highly accessible in that sign language interpretation is also possible using images. Prof. Itoh also expressed his expectations that online conferencing tools would allow an advanced means of communication after feedback from different parts of society.
In response, Dr. Kiyota, the moderator, stated that increased diversity would lead to new innovations, and Prof. Hashimoto agreed. She also pointed out that unless human resources and organizations can respect diversity, it will be difficult to survive in the future. Prof. Itoh also spoke of research being conducted to incorporate AI and IoT technologies into housework, childcare, and long-term care in the field of life sciences, where Ochanomizu University has an advantage, and reaffirmed the importance of thinking from various contexts. Prof. Bono pointed out that work-life balance is essential for both women and men for thinking about diversity. She summarized that the new tools and technologies developed in the wake of the coronavirus could be retained and used as an opportunity to make significant changes to society afterward.
Finally, the AI research community, i.e., the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence, discussed specific actions to be taken in the future. Some societies have established action guidelines, and some participants pointed out the need for numerical targets. Prof. Hashimoto spoke of the importance of increasing the percentage of not only women but also people with disabilities and people from overseas to at least 30%, as well as the importance of appealing to the next generation. Prof. Itoh reaffirmed the importance of using events such as open campuses to appeal to the informatics community and stated the importance of having a women’s community among undergraduates. Prof. Bono pointed out the importance of paths to enter the field of informatics even after studying humanities at university, based on her career in informatics despite her background in humanities.
Following the panel discussion, Prof. Hideaki Takeda, Chair of the Ethics Committee, made the closing remarks. Prof. Takeda stated that in the global trend of requiring diversity in AI research and development, there is a need to explore what the Ethics Committee can do, as well as what can be done in cooperation with the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence and other organizations in the future. As one of the concrete actions, he introduced the ELSI Award established by the Ethics Committee. He concluded by saying that this award was intended for people and works involved in AI for issues related to ethics and society, and expressed hope that the Society would be able to award individuals for diversity and inclusion in the future.
Written by Arisa Ema