Athena Pathways reaches milestone in helping women pursue AI and data science

B.C. consortium Athena Pathways has reached milestone in helping women pursue AI and data science.

Credit: Adam Blasberg

Maryam Sadeghi is co-founder and CEO of MetaOptima Technology, an intelligent-dermatology startup that is one of Athena Pathways’ industry partners

The B.C. consortium’s partners include quantum computing player D-Wave, KPMG and mining giant Teck

When it comes to cutting-edge digital professions, one local organization is working with industry to help ensure that women don’t get left behind.

Athena Pathways, which has financial backing from Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, has set a goal of helping 500 B.C. women enter or advance in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science. Launched last March, the consortium aims to attract more talent to the province’s tech ecosystem while tackling the significant gender gap in those areas.

That effort has paid off as we mark International Women’s Day, whose 2021 theme calls on everyone to help create an inclusive world by calling out gender bias and inequality—and by celebrating women’s achievements. So far, Athena Pathways has supported 250 women through education, employment and mentorship.

On the education side, the consortium has given more than 100 scholarships of $500 each to women taking courses and workshops at its partner schools: BCIT, Northeastern University–Vancouver, SFU and UBC. Participants also received a grant from Microsoft Corp. so they can take select Microsoft Azure courses for free.

Through the Athena Pathways job board, industry consortium members Careteam Technologies, D-Wave Systems, KPMG, MetaOptima Technology, the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) and Teck Resources, along with other hiring partners, have recruited a wide range of women who bring top talent and add diversity to their teams. Meanwhile, the consortium’s mentorship program has found matches for more than 50 mentees.

Digital leaders wanted

“It’s so important to ensure that we don’t see happen in AI what happened with coding,” said Alexandra Greenhill, chair of the Athena Pathways steering committee. As of 2019, women enrolled in Canadian computer science programs accounted for a smaller share of the total—just 16 percent—than three decades earlier.

“The participation of women in this emerging domain needs to be supported, and Athena Pathways is a great example of what diverse organizations collaborating on this mission can accomplish in a short amount of time,” added Greenhill, a physician and entrepreneur who is CEO and chief medical officer of Careteam, a Vancouver-based health-care collaboration platform.

François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of innovation, science and industry, also weighed in. “Increasing equity, diversity and inclusion in STEM fields creates an environment where excellence, innovation and creativity can thrive,” Champagne said. “Today, on International Women’s Day, I wish to congratulate Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster and the Athena Pathways consortium for reaching an important milestone in their efforts to bring more women into the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science.”

Along the way, Athena Pathways has found that organizations looking to adopt AI and support the growth of diverse leadership teams face challenges finding qualified digital leaders. To keep building momentum in that area, it says, the consortium plans to make new announcements.

“By partnering with industry players such as Teck and KPMG, we better understand the challenges these employers face in identifying skilled talent as the Canadian and global economies continue to adopt digital technologies,” said Sue Paish, CEO of the Digital Technology Supercluster. “Through this project, we continue to support the digital transformation of companies while creating pathways for women to receive top training, mentoring and job opportunities in our digital world.”