After a Year of Turmoil, Elite Universities Welcome More Diverse Freshman Classes

Of interest:

Jianna Curbelo attends a career-focused public high school in New York City, works at McDonald’s and lives in the Bronx with her unemployed mother, who did not graduate from college.

So when her high-school counselor and her Ph.D.-educated aunt urged her to apply to Cornell, on her path to becoming a veterinarian, she had her doubts. But she also had her hopes.

“It was one of those, ‘I’ll give it a shot, boost my ego a little bit,’” she said, laughing infectiously, of her decision to apply.

Then she got the unexpected news: She was accepted. She figured she was helped by the fact that Cornell, like hundreds of other universities, had suspended its standardized test score requirement for admission during the coronavirus pandemic. She also said she believed that protests kindled by the death of George Floyd had caught the attention of admissions officers, inspiring some to draft essay questions aimed at eliciting students’ thoughts on racial justice and the value of diversity.

“Those protests really did inspire me,” she said. “It made it seem like the times were sort of changing, in a way.”

Whether college admissions have changed for the long haul remains unclear. But early data suggests that many elite universities have admitted a higher proportion of traditionally underrepresented students this year — Black, Hispanic and those who were from lower-income communities or were the first generation in their families to go to college, or some combination — than ever before.

The gains seem to reflect a moment of national racial and social awareness not seen since the late 1960s that motivated universities to put a premium on diversity and that prodded students to expand their horizons on possible college experiences.

“I would say the likelihood is that the movement that arose in the wake of George Floyd’s murder has exerted some influence on these institutions’ admissions officers,” said Jerome Karabel, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a historian of college admission.

“But I think an equally important factor may be the effect of the pandemic on the applicant pool — they had a much broader range of low-income and minority applicants to choose from.”

Consider Jaylen Cocklin, 18, of Columbia, S.C., the son of a retired police officer and a state worker. Jaylen, whose two older brothers attend historically Black institutions, decided in middle school that he wanted to go to Harvard, but the events of the past year were a part of his thinking as he weighed his opportunities.

“It was just another thing driving me to go to Harvard and prove everyone wrong, and defy the common stereotype placed upon so many African-American males today,” he said.

He also suspected that Harvard might be thinking it had some duty to young men like him “because of the social outcry.” And, now he says, it appears that he was right.

He finds himself deciding among Harvard, Emory, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Wake Forest, Davidson and Georgetown.

The growth in minority admissions at top schools, both private universities and state flagships, has been driven in part by an overall explosion in applications there. Although the total number of students applying to college this year increased only slightly (though slightly more for Black, Hispanic and Asian students than white ones), the number of applications to top schools increased drastically across the board — by 43 percent to Harvard and 66 percent to M.I.T., for example.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, freshman applications rose by 28 percent, and even more for racial minorities — by 48 percent for African-Americans, by 33 percent for Hispanic students and by 16 percent for American Indian students.

The easing of the reliance on standardized tests, which critics say often work to the advantage of more educated and affluent families who can afford tutors and test prep, was most likely the most important factor in encouraging minority applicants.

Only 46 percent of applications this year came from students who reported a test score, down from 77 percent last year, according to Common App, the not-for-profit organization that offers the application used by more than 900 schools. First-generation, lower-income, as well as Black, Hispanic and Native American students were much less likely than others to submit their test scores on college applications.

Schools had been dropping the testing requirement for years, but during the pandemic a wave of 650 schools joined in. In most cases, a student with good scores could still submit them and have them considered; a student who had good grades and recommendations but fell short on test scores could leave them out. 

Most schools have announced that they will continue the test-optional experiment next year, as the normal rhythm of the school year is still roiled by the pandemic. It is unclear whether the shift foretells a permanent change in how students are selected.

Gabriella Codrington, 17, a Black student at Bard, a selective public high school in New York City, submitted her SAT score only to her “safety” schools, like the University of Delaware and Temple University, where she thought it would help her application. She withheld it from more selective schools like Harvard, Michigan, Stanford and N.Y.U., emphasizing her grades and resilience in the face of cancer, now in remission. “It definitely gave me a bit more relief,” she said of the test-optional policy.

Neither her father, a doorman, nor her mother, a sales associate, went to college. She has been admitted to N.Y.U.

Jaylen Cocklin’s family (his father went to a historically Black college and his mother to a Christian one) encouraged him to aim high. 

He “just grinded” for the SAT, he said, using a free online program, books and lessons on YouTube, and drove 45 miles because of the pandemic to take the first of two SAT tests. His score was high enough that he felt it would help him stand out at top schools, so he submitted it.

In his application essay, he wrote about the “struggle to be who I was” at A.C. Flora High School, in suburban Columbia, S.C. “I’ve been quite stereotyped by being African-American, the common stereotypes — thuggish, hoodish, looking down on what African-Americans can do,” he said.

But he also had to deal with being stereotyped as “whitewashed.” He wrote about his efforts to find a balance.

As students like Jaylen and Gabriella told their stories, admissions officers listened.

“You could tell the story of America through the eyes of all these young people, and how they dealt with the times, Black Lives Matter, the wave of unemployment and the uncertainties of the political moment, wanting to make a difference,” said MJ Knoll-Finn, senior vice president for enrollment management at New York University.

At N.Y.U., this year’s admitted class is about 29 percent Black or Hispanic students, up from 27 percent last year, and 20 percent first-generation students, up from 15 percent.

At Harvard, the proportion of admitted students who are Black jumped to 18 percent from 14.8 percent last year. If all of them enrolled, there would be about 63 more Black students in this year’s freshman class than if they were admitted at last year’s rate. Asian-Americans saw the second biggest increase, to 27.2 percent from 24.5 percent, which could be meaningful if a lawsuit accusing Harvard of systematically discriminating against Asian-Americans is taken up by the Supreme Court.

The percentage of Black students offered a spot at the University of Southern California rose to 8.5 percent from 6 percent, and Latino students to 18 percent from 15 percent.

Stu Schmill, dean of admissions at M.I.T., said the school did not release the breakdown of the admitted class because it was not the final enrolling class. “But I can tell you that there is a higher percentage of students of color this year than last,” he said.

A number of schools did not report admissions figures by race, instead reporting nonwhite “students of color” (including Asians) as a group, which generally showed an increase.

Once students actually accept an offer of admission and enroll, the diversity tally may look different, reflecting the difference between students admitted and where those students choose to enroll.

Some admissions experts worry that making standardized tests, like the SAT, optional will make it more difficult to select top students, especially at a time of widespread grade inflation. But when tests were required, “students were taking themselves out of the running,” said Cassie Magesis, director of post-secondary access for the Urban Assembly, a network of small schools that includes the one that Jianna Curbelo attends.

Admissions directors said that in the absence of test scores, they drilled deeper into not only high school grades, but also the rigor of courses taken in high school as well as personal essays and recommendations from teachers and guidance counselors.

Some hired a small army of application readers, like N.Y.U., which added 50 new readers, more than doubling its regular reading staff.

Even some admissions directors who think that standardized tests have been misused have mixed feelings about eliminating them altogether

“In some ways, I would say good riddance to the SAT,” said Joy St. John, dean of admission and financial aid at Wellesley College. “It feels like we just can’t stop gaslighting disadvantaged students.”

Still, she said testing could identify students who rose above their environment, or who excelled in certain subjects, like math and science. “There are aspects I will miss if we don’t have it,” she said. As imperfect as the process is, the admissions directors said they welcomed students taking a chance on challenging schools.

Ms. Knoll-Finn of N.Y.U. said. “Why not reach for the stars and see what you can get?”


Ryerson University releases report card on student diversity. Which faculties pass, which receive a failing grade and how the school plans to improve

Kudos to Ryerson for collecting and presenting this data with an impressive response rate.

Reading this article, made me question whether and when Ryerson may have to broaden its diversity efforts not only in cases where women, visible minorities and Indigenous peoples are under-represented but also in programs where non-visible minorities are under-represented (e.g., arts, communications, community service, management):

Ryerson University graded its programs on student diversity and most faculties are skating by with Cs.

At a glance, some of the most under-represented groups in the school’s total population were Indigenous students, students with disabilities and racialized graduate students. 

And a further report-card-style breakdown of individual programs and faculties shows just how these equity groups are spread out across the university. 

Ryerson University graded its programs on student diversity and most faculties are skating by with Cs.

At a glance, some of the most under-represented groups in the school’s total population were Indigenous students, students with disabilities and racialized graduate students. 

And a further report-card-style breakdown of individual programs and faculties shows just how these equity groups are spread out across the university. SKIP

The school’s first ever breakdown of student identities, “The Student Diversity Self-ID Report” compares student representation from 2019 with the makeup of the GTA and Ontario across five equity groups: women, racialized people, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and LGBTQ people.

Ryerson is one of few Canadian universities that has collected and published this sort of information. Students and advocates have called for disaggregated data to better address equity gaps on campus for years. 

For undergraduate programs, the faculties’ average diversity scores were between 54 and just over 72 per cent. Graduate programs scored between 40 to 75 per cent.

The faculty averages give an overview, but the breakdown by programs reveals a detailed look at the exact programs where certain groups are severely under-represented.

For instance, Black students are 7 per cent of the undergraduate population in total, which is close to the GTA population. But some programs like accounting and finance, interior design, nutrition and most engineering programs scored Ds for Black student representation. 

And while women are 55 per cent of the overall student population, they are under-represented in business, computer science and engineering programs. 

“It provides a snapshot from 2019, to let us know where we are and where we need to go,” said Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s vice-president of equity and community inclusion.

Green said the school’s long-term goal is “to see greater alignment with the community representation by 2030.”

How the report works

Students were able to share via an online questionnaire whether they identify with any of Ryerson’s five equity groups: women, racialized students, Indigenous students, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students.

The survey had a 96 per cent response rate with more than 40,000 students participating. 

Each program was then awarded a report-card-like letter grade for each equity group category with the racialized category further broken down to Black, Chinese and South Asian. 

Programs were awarded an A+ if the proportion of the students met or was greater than its population in the GTA or Ontario — although that grade won’t stop the university from continuing efforts to improve. The grades A to D+ show how much improvement is needed for the equity groups to be representative of the rest of the population. 

Based on the data, each program and faculty received an average percentage rating of its overall diversity across equity groups.

“The report is there to help inform our community and to help drive decision making and to help develop strategies, so that we can make education more inclusive for everyone,” Green told the Star.

There are more details in the report taking a detailed look at the Black student experience, the role financial barriers play in accessing education and how to measure the experiences and graduation rate of these students. 

It also outlines plans to create working groups to assess what supports, like scholarships and mentoring programs can be put in place to create more pathways for students. 

The need for disaggregated data

Disaggregated data collection has been long desired by students and equity advocates, but schools have been slow to move. 

In 2019, Universities Canada surveyed schools across the country about their equity, diversity and inclusion practices.When it came to student data collection, schools were more likely to collect data on age, gender and Indigeneity, but less likely to collect statistics on sexuality, ability or race more widely. 

In 2017, the CBC conducted an investigation where it asked Canadian universities if they collected data on how their students identify racially — 63 out of 73 did not, Ryerson included. 

Universities have been more likely to keep data on faculty and staff, in order to meet legislative requirements, like the Ontario Human Rights Code and Federal Contractors Program. 

But without a clear picture of what the student body looks like, it is less likely that schools will make structural changes to make post-secondary schools more accessible and inclusive once these students arrive.

Carl James, a York University professor and senior equity adviser, said he finds it ironic that most universities, which are research institutions, had not been using this sort of student data to inform their programs and policies.

Data collection, he said, is a useful advocacy tool, keeps institutions accountable and allows them to keep track of change from year to year. But the most important part he said is how it is used and interpreted. 

“Keep taking data for data sake,” without using it to bring about the necessary change “that’s not a good use of data,” he said. “How are you going to use it in the interest of the people?” 

James also points out that students had been advocating for disaggregated data collection for years.

In 2015, Black students at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University formed Black Liberation Collectives in solidarity with U.S. students at University of Missouri. One of many demands they made of administration was to collect race-based data on students, which U of T agreed to begin in 2016.

Elsewhere in the GTA, University of Toronto created a survey in November 2020 to collect data for a student diversity census.York University listed intentions to do so in a June 2020statement addressing anti-Black racism. These initiatives came after George Floyd’s death sparked a widespread reckoning on anti-Black racism. 

For schools collecting this data, James’ question is: “Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?”


Malik: To live in a diverse society means to live with debate. Bring it on

To my mind, it is more how one engages in discussion and debate, not in the raising of uncomfortable issues:

No one has a right not to be offended. All of us have a duty to challenge bigotry. These two claims are not just compatible, they are often interconnected. Today, though, many view these as conflicting perspectives. To give offence to other cultures or faiths, they argue, is to foment racism; to challenge racism, one should refrain from giving offence.

It’s a belief at the heart of the controversy engulfing Batley grammar school. The facts are still unclear. A teacher apparently showed an image of the Prophet Muhammad in a religious education class. Some parents have demanded the teacher be sacked, holding protests outside the school. The school has apologised and suspended the teacher involved. At the heart of the affair, the former Tory cabinet minister Sayeeda Warsi insists, is the issue of “child safeguarding”, of protecting children from racist bullying.

It is inevitable in plural societies that we offend the sensibilities of others. Where different beliefs are deeply held, disagreement is unavoidable. Almost by definition, that’s what it means to live in a plural society. If we cherish diversity, we should establish ways of having such debates and conversations in a civil manner, not try to suppress them. A structured discussion in a classroom, properly done, seems an ideal approach.

It is inevitable, too, that in pursuing social change, we often offend deeply held sensibilities. Many groups struggling for justice and equality – women, gays, non-believers – within religious communities cannot but be blasphemous. In this context, to accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged. Fighting for social justice, in other words, often requires us to offend others. The boundaries of speech are different in a classroom than in the world outside. Here, a teacher is dealing with minors, building a relationship of trust with them, encouraging them to think, and to think about issues that they may not have thought about or may not have wanted to think about.

Source: To live in a diverse society means to live with debate. Bring it on

Make way! Creating space for change in Canadian politics

Former MP Caesar-Chavannes and Alex Marland make the case. IMO, a bit unrealistic in terms of solutions and no guarantees that increased diversity will necessarily reduce partisanship and “team player” conformity, or result in greater diversity of thought.

But an important reflection none the less:

There are many ways politicians and bureaucrats can show leadership in response to calls to democratize Canadian politics. Specifically, there are a lot of things men can do, particularly heterosexual white men.

As the largest demographic in Parliament, they can lead the way by stepping back or stepping aside, in order to create meaningful opportunities to engage more women, Indigenous, Black and marginalized peoples. 

Let’s face it, if we are to transform the culture of Canadian political institutions, we must take immediate, deliberate and intentional action.

As co-authors, one of us is the only Black woman MP who served in the 42nd Parliament (2015-19) and is a champion of diversity, equity and inclusivity. The other has interviewed more than 100 Canadian politicians and political staff for a book about party discipline. We met as part of that research, and share a deep concern about the need for the political elite to make room for diverse voices in the House of Commons.

Representation matters

When interacting with politicians, it becomes clear that at different points in their careers they approach politics with distinct philosophies about representation

Some elected officials take a principled stand on big picture issues. Some believe that voters trust them to figure things out, while others feel a duty to follow the wishes of constituents. Far too many Canadian politicians are guided by loyalty to their political party and leader, whereas some are motivated to champion the concerns of people who share similar identities or similar experiences.

Prioritizing the composition of legislatures and looking at public policy through the lens of gender, Indigeneity, race or other identity characteristic is sometimes known as “descriptive representation,” a term coined by American political scientist Hanna Pitkin in her landmark book The Concept of Representation. In it, Pitkin dissects what the contested concept of representation means. She makes a compelling argument that a democratic legislature must be a forum to hear from a diversity of people’s voices. This is important because otherwise these voices are excluded from political debate and from public policy decision-making.

But in what tangible ways can diversity improve democracy?

Identity and intersectionality

Diversity is necessary for citizens to see themselves represented. Since 1867, and before, generations of white, land-owning men were the beacon of political leadership. Since the Second World War, they have increasingly toed the party line, as have others, recruited into a political system that values conformity over diversity. In today’s world, it is important to remember that we are each the product of a variety of different identities that intersect to make us who we are. For some, their different identities add layers of oppression in politics.

Studies have argued that descriptive representation can fundamentally support the principles of democracy. This extends beyond reshaping the composition of legislatures: listening and receiving input from diverse voices can result in better governance and better policy. A good example is research showing that women leaders have been rated significantly more positively than men during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, women are thought to have exhibited better interpersonal skills in managing the crisis. 

Listening to marginalized voices is needed to help shape Parliamentary decisions. Deliberations around medical assistance in dying legislation (Bill C-7) would have benefited from improved listening to disability groups and racialized communities.

Diversify legislatures

More diverse legislatures can transform Canadian politics in a profound way: challenging the dogma of party discipline that keeps politics organized but corrodes representation. In Ottawa and the provinces, political parties have an iron grip over politicians, and group conformity is expected. 

Why is it normal in Canada that a politician jeopardizes their parliamentary career by taking a public stand different from the party leader? Don’t we want politicians who feel that they can speak truth to power? Homogeneity in party politics might work for partisans, but does it work for constituents? Even MPs become frustrated with democratic institutions when they are reduced to robots, encouraged to vote along party lines and repeat talking points.

Electing a broader array of Canadians can help break down party silos and soften polarization. In workplaces, more heterogeneity can stir internal conflict and rattle group norms. But injecting different perspectives also enriches the ability of a group to come up with creative and innovative solutions. The same is true in politics. 

The more diverse the voices that occupy seats in legislatures, the more political parties can benefit from better policy which, in turn, benefits the public. Sadly, there is little evidence that partisans are open to listening to people willing to rebuff the “team player” mentality that dominates Canadian Parliament. A good way to help change that is to change who is being elected.

This can include white men not seeking re-election in order to create space for others, encouraging people to run for political office, and also helping the newest members thrive when they get there. 

Taking proactive steps toward fewer white men in politics in order to create an opening for others has worked in British Columbia. In 2011, the B.C. NDP introduced a radical policy that when a male legislator vacates a seat, the party must nominate a woman, racialized person or someone from other underrepresented groups in Canadian politics. 

In the 2020 provincial election, the B.C. NDP won a majority of seats, and for the first time in Canadian history a governing party’s caucus has more women than men, as well as more people of colour serving than any B.C. caucus ever elected before. Diversity in Premier John Horgan’s caucus meant that he had more choices to assemble a diverse cabinet. The party’s policy of affirmative action has translated into meaningful, profound change in both the legislative and executive branches of government. Bold action like this is needed to achieve the ideals of descriptive representation.

Ensuring democracy thrives

The principles of diversity, equity and inclusivity are important, and taking action so that Canadian politics are not dominated by one segment of society is necessary to democratize our institutions. Regardless of party affiliation, or political ideology, the urgency of now demands that those with power choose to challenge the status quo. 

To ensure democracy thrives in Canada, politicians need to listen to the voices of those who are often on the margins of our political ecosystem and act accordingly. Gaining knowledge is a necessary first step, and men in positions of authority can help create a thriving democratic landscape by opening opportunities to people who are different than them. 

A good place to start is for men to listen.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Queen’s University, Ontario; Alex Marland, Memorial University of Newfoundland


How to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace

Some useful suggestions:

In a few weeks, the 2021 list of Canada’s Best Managed Companies will be announced—and that’s something to get excited about. These companies are the high-performance businesses that energize our economy, even in the toughest of times. We’re looking into their DNA and what makes them outstanding in their field, and it is clear that one of those factors is a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. This year, for example, 24 per cent of the new winners have a CEO that identifies as a member of a diverse group. But it goes beyond that.

Deloitte’s DE&I Special Advisor to the Best Managed Companies Program, Chinmaya Thakore, explains that, “as a first step, it is critical to understand what diversity, equity and inclusion does not mean—it’s not simply a matter of checking a box or filling a quota. This is about equitable sponsorship of everyone who has an aspiration to lead and progress. Therefore, a successful diversity, equity and inclusion strategy involves accepting and implementing it as a standard practice within the culture, training, policies, skills and every every aspect of running and building a successful business.”

To that end, here’s how some of these companies are prioritizing—and championing—diversity, equity and inclusion in their workspaces:

  • Ensuring that clients are able to be served in their language of choice—meaning hiring staff that speak more than 50 languages
  • Allowing and encouraging uniform modifications for religious purposes and celebrating holidays, festivals and traditions of all cultures
  • Keeping a close eye on the percentage of marginalized and other underrepresented areas in their business and continuously creating opportunities where there are gaps
  • Making an effort to go beyond stereotypical hiring and creating more opportunities for women in traditionally male-dominated roles
  • Going above and beyond traditional hiring by looking globally and providing immigration support, language-skills training and team-integration assistance
  • Committing to inclusion, equity and diversity beyond the workplace by donating to social justice organizations and encouraging employees to follow suit with a donation-matching program

“As leaders, we want our Best Managed companies to feel empowered to act, paving the way for businesses across Canada. If we want to prosper and succeed in these very disruptive times, we will need the full strength of the Canadian demographic and we will need to pivot from the old practices,” adds Thakore.

Though diversity, equity and inclusion is not the only solution to a well-managed company, it is a common success factor among companies on this year’s Best Managed list. The Best Managed community is a platform to strengthen the bonds between like-minded companies and nurture new relationships—driving Canada toward a more prosperous future.

Source: How to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace

Who Is Making Sure the A.I. Machines Aren’t Racist?

Good overview of the issues and debates (Google’s earlier slogan of “do no evil” seems so quaint):

Hundreds of people gathered for the first lecture at what had become the world’s most important conference on artificial intelligence — row after row of faces. Some were East Asian, a few were Indian, and a few were women. But the vast majority were white men. More than 5,500 people attended the meeting, five years ago in Barcelona, Spain.

Timnit Gebru, then a graduate student at Stanford University, remembers counting only six Black people other than herself, all of whom she knew, all of whom were men.

The homogeneous crowd crystallized for her a glaring issue. The big thinkers of tech say A.I. is the future. It will underpin everything from search engines and email to the software that drives our cars, directs the policing of our streets and helps create our vaccines.

But it is being built in a way that replicates the biases of the almost entirely male, predominantly white work force making it.

In the nearly 10 years I’ve written about artificial intelligence, two things have remained a constant: The technology relentlessly improves in fits and sudden, great leaps forward. And bias is a thread that subtly weaves through that work in a way that tech companies are reluctant to acknowledge.

On her first night home in Menlo Park, Calif., after the Barcelona conference, sitting cross-​legged on the couch with her laptop, Dr. Gebru described the A.I. work force conundrum in a Facebook post.

“I’m not worried about machines taking over the world. I’m worried about groupthink, insularity and arrogance in the A.I. community — especially with the current hype and demand for people in the field,” she wrote. “The people creating the technology are a big part of the system. If many are actively excluded from its creation, this technology will benefit a few while harming a great many.”

The A.I. community buzzed about the mini-manifesto. Soon after, Dr. Gebru helped create a new organization, Black in A.I. After finishing her Ph.D., she was hired by Google.

She teamed with Margaret Mitchell, who was building a group inside Google dedicated to “ethical A.I.” Dr. Mitchell had previously worked in the research lab at Microsoft. She had grabbed attention when she told Bloomberg News in 2016 that A.I. suffered from a “sea of dudes” problem. She estimated that she had worked with hundreds of men over the previous five years and about 10 women.

Their work was hailed as groundbreaking. The nascent A.I. industry, it had become clear, needed minders and people with different perspectives.

About six years ago, A.I. in a Google online photo service organized photos of Black people into a folder called “gorillas.” Four years ago, a researcher at a New York start-up noticed that the A.I. system she was working on was egregiously biased against Black people. Not long after, a Black researcher in Boston discovered that an A.I. system couldn’t identify her face — until she put on a white mask.

In 2018, when I told Google’s public relations staff that I was working on a book about artificial intelligence, it arranged a long talk with Dr. Mitchell to discuss her work. As she described how she built the company’s Ethical A.I. team — and brought Dr. Gebru into the fold — it was refreshing to hear from someone so closely focused on the bias problem.

But nearly three years later, Dr. Gebru was pushed out of the company without a clear explanation. She said she had been firedafter criticizing Google’s approach to minority hiring and, with a research paper, highlighting the harmful biases in the A.I. systems that underpin Google’s search engine and other services.

“Your life starts getting worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people,” Dr. Gebru said in an email before her firing. “You start making the other leaders upset.”

As Dr. Mitchell defended Dr. Gebru, the company removed her, too. She had searched through her own Google email account for material that would support their position and forwarded emails to another account, which somehow got her into trouble. Google declined to comment for this article.

Their departure became a point of contention for A.I. researchers and other tech workers. Some saw a giant company no longer willing to listen, too eager to get technology out the door without considering its implications. I saw an old problem — part technological and part sociological — finally breaking into the open.

It should have been a wake-up call.

In June 2015, a friend sent Jacky Alciné, a 22-year-old software engineer living in Brooklyn, an internet link for snapshots the friend had posted to the new Google Photos service. Google Photos could analyze snapshots and automatically sort them into digital folders based on what was pictured. One folder might be “dogs,” another “birthday party.”

When Mr. Alciné clicked on the link, he noticed one of the folders was labeled “gorillas.” That made no sense to him, so he opened the folder. He found more than 80 photos he had taken nearly a year earlier of a friend during a concert in nearby Prospect Park. That friend was Black.

He might have let it go if Google had mistakenly tagged just one photo. But 80? He posted a screenshot on Twitter. “Google Photos, y’all,” messed up, he wrote, using much saltier language. “My friend is not a gorilla.”

Like facial recognition services, talking digital assistants and conversational “chatbots,” Google Photos relied on an A.I. system that learned its skills by analyzing enormous amounts of digital data.

Called a “neural network,” this mathematical system could learn tasks that engineers could never code into a machine on their own. By analyzing thousands of photos of gorillas, it could learn to recognize a gorilla. It was also capable of egregious mistakes. The onus was on engineers to choose the right data when training these mathematical systems. (In this case, the easiest fix was to eliminate “gorilla” as a photo category.)

As a software engineer, Mr. Alciné understood the problem. He compared it to making lasagna. “If you mess up the lasagna ingredients early, the whole thing is ruined,” he said. “It is the same thing with A.I. You have to be very intentional about what you put into it. Otherwise, it is very difficult to undo.”

In 2017, Deborah Raji, a 21-​year-​old Black woman from Ottawa, sat at a desk inside the New York offices of Clarifai, the start-up where she was working. The company built technology that could automatically recognize objects in digital images and planned to sell it to businesses, police departments and government agencies.

She stared at a screen filled with faces — images the company used to train its facial recognition software.

As she scrolled through page after page of these faces, she realized that most — more than 80 percent — were of white people. More than 70 percent of those white people were male. When Clarifai trained its system on this data, it might do a decent job of recognizing white people, Ms. Raji thought, but it would fail miserably with people of color, and probably women, too.

Clarifai was also building a “content moderation system,” a tool that could automatically identify and remove pornography from images people posted to social networks. The company trained this system on two sets of data: thousands of photos pulled from online pornography sites, and thousands of G‑rated images bought from stock photo services.

The system was supposed to learn the difference between the pornographic and the anodyne. The problem was that the G‑rated images were dominated by white people, and the pornography was not. The system was learning to identify Black people as pornographic.

“The data we use to train these systems matters,” Ms. Raji said. “We can’t just blindly pick our sources.”

This was obvious to her, but to the rest of the company it was not. Because the people choosing the training data were mostly white men, they didn’t realize their data was biased.

“The issue of bias in facial recognition technologies is an evolving and important topic,” Clarifai’s chief executive, Matt Zeiler, said in a statement. Measuring bias, he said, “is an important step.”

Before joining Google, Dr. Gebru collaborated on a study with a young computer scientist, Joy Buolamwini. A graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ms. Buolamwini, who is Black, came from a family of academics. Her grandfather specialized in medicinal chemistry, and so did her father.

She gravitated toward facial recognition technology. Other researchers believed it was reaching maturity, but when she used it, she knew it wasn’t.

In October 2016, a friend invited her for a night out in Boston with several other women. “We’ll do masks,” the friend said. Her friend meant skin care masks at a spa, but Ms. Buolamwini assumed Halloween masks. So she carried a white plastic Halloween mask to her office that morning.

It was still sitting on her desk a few days later as she struggled to finish a project for one of her classes. She was trying to get a detection system to track her face. No matter what she did, she couldn’t quite get it to work.

In her frustration, she picked up the white mask from her desk and pulled it over her head. Before it was all the way on, the system recognized her face — or, at least, it recognized the mask.

“Black Skin, White Masks,” she said in an interview, nodding to the 1952 critique of historical racism from the psychiatrist Frantz Fanon. “The metaphor becomes the truth. You have to fit a norm, and that norm is not you.”

Ms. Buolamwini started exploring commercial services designed to analyze faces and identify characteristics like age and sex, including tools from Microsoft and IBM.

She found that when the services read photos of lighter-​skinned men, they misidentified sex about 1 percent of the time. But the darker the skin in the photo, the larger the error rate. It rose particularly high with images of women with dark skin. Microsoft’s error rate was about 21 percent. IBM’s was 35.

Published in the winter of 2018, the study drove a backlash against facial recognition technology and, particularly, its use in law enforcement. Microsoft’s chief legal officer said the company had turned down sales to law enforcement when there was concern the technology could unreasonably infringe on people’s rights, and he made a public call for government regulation.

Twelve months later, Microsoft backed a bill in Washington State that would require notices to be posted in public places using facial recognition and ensure that government agencies obtained a court order when looking for specific people. The bill passed, and it takes effect later this year. The company, which did not respond to a request for comment for this article, did not back other legislation that would have provided stronger protections.

Ms. Buolamwini began to collaborate with Ms. Raji, who moved to M.I.T. They started testing facial recognition technology from a third American tech giant: Amazon. The company had started to market its technology to police departments and government agencies under the name Amazon Rekognition.

Ms. Buolamwini and Ms. Raji published a study showing that an Amazon face service also had trouble identifying the sex of female and darker-​skinned faces. According to the study, the service mistook women for men 19 percent of the time and misidentified darker-​skinned women for men 31 percent of the time. For lighter-​skinned males, the error rate was zero.

Amazon called for government regulation of facial recognition. It also attacked the researchers in private emails and public blog posts.

“The answer to anxieties over new technology is not to run ‘tests’ inconsistent with how the service is designed to be used, and to amplify the test’s false and misleading conclusions through the news media,” an Amazon executive, Matt Wood, wrote in a blog post that disputed the study and a New York Times article that described it.

In an open letter, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Gebru rejected Amazon’s argument and called on it to stop selling to law enforcement. The letter was signed by 25 artificial intelligence researchers from Google, Microsoft and academia.

Last June, Amazon backed down. It announced that it would not let the police use its technology for at least a year, saying it wanted to give Congress time to create rules for the ethical use of the technology. Congress has yet to take up the issue. Amazon declined to comment for this article.

Dr. Gebru and Dr. Mitchell had less success fighting for change inside their own company. Corporate gatekeepers at Google were heading them off with a new review system that had lawyers and even communications staff vetting research papers.

Dr. Gebru’s dismissal in December stemmed, she said, from the company’s treatment of a research paper she wrote alongside six other researchers, including Dr. Mitchell and three others at Google. The paper discussed ways that a new type of language technology, including a system built by Google that underpins its search engine, can show bias against women and people of color.

After she submitted the paper to an academic conference, Dr. Gebru said, a Google manager demanded that she either retract the paper or remove the names of Google employees. She said she would resign if the company could not tell her why it wanted her to retract the paper and answer other concerns.

The response: Her resignation was accepted immediately, and Google revoked her access to company email and other services. A month later, it removed Dr. Mitchell’s access after she searched through her own email in an effort to defend Dr. Gebru.

In a Google staff meeting last month, just after the company fired Dr. Mitchell, the head of the Google A.I. lab, Jeff Dean, said the company would create strict rules meant to limit its review of sensitive research papers. He also defended the reviews. He declined to discuss the details of Dr. Mitchell’s dismissal but said she had violated the company’s code of conduct and security policies.

One of Mr. Dean’s new lieutenants, Zoubin Ghahramani, said the company must be willing to tackle hard issues. There are “uncomfortable things that responsible A.I. will inevitably bring up,” he said. “We need to be comfortable with that discomfort.”

But it will be difficult for Google to regain trust — both inside the company and out.

“They think they can get away with firing these people and it will not hurt them in the end, but they are absolutely shooting themselves in the foot,” said Alex Hanna, a longtime part of Google’s 10-member Ethical A.I. team. “What they have done is incredibly myopic.”


Women landing more leadership jobs, but racialized, Indigenous and disabled women lag: study

Of note:

The share of women in senior leadership positions at Canadian companies is on the rise despite the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. But the number of racialized, Indigenous and disabled women in top roles remains small, and many companies don’t disclose any leadership diversity data, according to a new report that is among the first to explore the varied experiences of women in Corporate Canada.

Over all, women’s representation improved between March, 2019, and September, 2020, among 48 public and private-sector companies surveyed by the Prosperity Project, a non-profit founded by a volunteer group of 62 female leaders.

Women held more than 40 per cent of seats on boards of the surveyed corporations as of September, up from 37 per cent in March, 2019. Nearly 31 per cent of executive roles were held by women, up from 28 per cent. More than 80 per cent of the companies also had at least one racialized woman in the pipeline leading to executive office, up from 68 per cent.

But the gains have been uneven. Black and disabled women each made up fewer than 2 per cent of directors and saw their share of executive positions rise from none to 0.8 per cent. Indigenous women made up only 1.6 per cent of executives and just 2.1 per cent of directors, and saw their share of senior positions relatively unchanged over the 18 months.

The toll of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests of the past year have thrust issues of representation and equality into the spotlight. Companies have responded by joining corporate diversity efforts such as the BlackNorth Initiative and the 50-30 Challenge. But the report shows many corporations have yet to turn those efforts into results.

“We know that companies are pivoting and making some really good decisions,” said Kristine Remedios, chief inclusion and social impact officer at KPMG Canada, who is among the Prosperity Project’s founding members. “But I think that there is a lot of hard work ahead for many organizations to actually lift this off the ground.”

The report also exposed how few companies are willing to share gender and diversity data. Of the 120 organizations invited to participate, 72 either declined or didn’t reply.

Many companies complain about survey fatigue, or are reluctant to require employees to self-identify, making it difficult to understand whether employees of diverse backgrounds are experiencing the workplace differently, said Pamela Jeffery, who founded the Prosperity Project. But the biggest barrier to collecting data is often a reluctance among top leaders to set diversity targets and then track their progress, she said.

Crown corporations have actually achieved gender parity in leadership roles, largely because they’ve set specific gender-representation targets and worked to meet them. “They’ve been deliberate,” Ms. Jeffery said. “Those organizations achieve results because they focus on it. They measure it.”

The Prosperity Project is looking to work with other companies on its planned annual report card of Canada’s 500 largest corporations by revenue, and has developed a process to help companies securely collect anonymized data on employees.

Governments and regulators should also require companies to set and disclose diversity targets, rather than allowing them the option of providing reasons why they don’t have targets – a practice known as comply or explain. “There’s been too much explaining and not enough complying,” said Ms. Jeffery, who previously founded the Women’s Executive Network and Canadian Board Diversity Council.

The recovery from the pandemic offers companies a unique chance to increase representation among diverse groups, said BMO’s Ms. Goulet.

She points to a project the bank worked on last year to create an on-reserve Indigenous technology hub at Batchewana First Nation in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. When the pandemic shifted much of the bank’s work force online, BMO turned the project into a virtual hub, opening up job opportunities for Indigenous workers in other remote and northern communities across the country. “I call this the kind of silver lining of the pandemic, in that we now have remote rules that are enabling us to access new and untapped talent nationwide,” she said.


Omidvar: The diversity deficit in the boardrooms of Canada’s charities

Good op-ed and practical recommendations by Senator Omidvar:

As we celebrate Black History Month, we continue to hear loud calls for more diversity in newsrooms across the country, in corporations, and in Parliament. Canadians have correctly pointed out a diversity gap in all those power structures.

But the diversity deficit doesn’t end there; it’s also in the boardrooms of charities and non-profits. It’s always been an open secret that, despite the amazing work it does to help Canadians from all backgrounds, the sector’s leadership wasn’t that diverse.

In June last year, I issued an open letter challenging charities and non-profits to take a hard look at themselves, and ask what they could do to increase diversity in the sector. Many heard my call and wanted to do more. The first step was getting data.

After learning about my challenge, Statistics Canada, along with sector leaders, designed a survey to provide the first-ever snapshot of diversity in governance. The recently released survey found that, outside of gender, the boards of charities were not yet inclusive of Indigenous peoples, racial minorities, LGBTQ2+, and the disabled.

From Dec. 4, 2020, to Jan. 18, 2021, 8,835 people completed the survey. Among them, 14 per cent identified as immigrants to Canada; 11 per cent said they belonged to a visible-minority group; eight per cent identified as LGBTQ2+; six per cent said they had a disability; and three per cent identified as First Nations, Metis, or Inuit.

Readers may well ask: Why does it matter who sits on the boards, as long as people receive their services? It matters, because the boards of charities set the course, decide on priorities, determine how money gets allocated and spent, and approve institutional policies ranging from hiring to procurement, from harassment to promotions.

Charities are not an insignificant part of our society. More than 85,000 charities and 85,000 non-profits are registered in Canada. Before the pandemic, they employed close to two millions Canadians and contributed eight per cent to the GDP. What they do and how they do it matters.

Now there’s some hard evidence to stand on, we have a clear way forward. Both the government and the sector must respond.

The government must collect diversity data every year. The StatCan survey is a start, but no further studies have been planned. For the sake of certainty, the Canada Revenue Agency should include questions about diversity on boards of directors on the T3010 and the T1044 tax forms.

This way, the data could be fulsome, disaggregated, and provide an accurate picture of diversity in the sector every year. Based on clear, ongoing evidence, the country and the sector could see if progress is being made.

The government should also compel the sector to disclose its diversity plans, as it did with corporations under Bill C-25. Only 30 per cent of the survey participants said their organization had a diversity plan. That is unacceptable, and the government should require that this information be made public.

I’m encouraged that the sector responded to the survey by saying, “(These data are) an important opportunity for us to look critically at who is at the table and who has decision-making power in our organizations.” Now that the evidence is clear, it needs to take concrete action.

First, charities and non-profits must proactively create diversity plans and publish them for their members and Canadians to see; they mustn’t wait for the government to compel them. Second, the plans should include diversity targets to increase the representation of under-represented groups on boards and in senior management. Last, they should convene a sector-wide conversation about race, racism, and diversity.

If we’re truly determined to stamp out racism, we need all sectors to step up to the plate. Charities and non-profits do so much good for Canadians. Now is the time for them to look inward, be intentional, and truly reflect the diversity of Canada.

Source: The diversity deficit in the boardrooms of Canada’s charities

Normalizing diversity in newsrooms is how we’ll tackle racial equity in the media

Some good practical suggestions:

I grew up in a radio station – specifically, the first Chinese-language radio station in Vancouver. It was run by my parents who saw demand turn their hour-long volunteer program in the 1970s into a full-fledged media business. My mother set up office dividers to create a play space for me at the station while she produced programs like my dad’s weekly phone-in talk show.

Over the 25 years my parents worked in broadcasting, non-Chinese-Canadian politicians, public service agencies, businesses and local celebrities realized that Cantonese and Mandarin programming was a valuable conduit to a captive audience: new Canadians who could vote, influence their social circles and buy things. These authority figures whom mainstream media had to chase down were knocking on the doors, trying to get time and attention on a Chinese-language radio station’s airwaves.

Years later, when HuffPost Canada hired me as an editor, I walked into a news operation where more than 50 per cent of the staff were people of colour, including my boss and his boss. When it came to coverage of certain communities of colour, story meetings and staff pitches started from a place of understanding because we were part of these very communities. The HuffPost Canada team once pursued a story idea that some people may have interpreted as a complaint about WestJet baggage fees, but our newsroom recognized immediately as a potentially discriminatory policy against the practice of remittance, which is commonly used by immigrant families to send money or items to their countries of origin.

Needless to say, I was privileged to be immersed in unique media environments where the norm was people of colour leading editorial, business and hiring decisions; where “others” were re-situated as the centre of stories; and where an authentic connection to the audience was rewarded with engagement and revenue. I’m well aware it’s a rare experience.

A demographic survey of newsroom staff at Canadian newspapers in 2004 found that 3.4 per cent were non-white, even though 16.7 per cent of Canada’s population identified themselves as Indigenous or a member of a visible minority group at the time. Since then, there’s been scant research into Canadian newsroom diversity, partly because few media operations here have been willing to collect or share that data with researchers. (The Canadian Association of Journalists launched a newsroom diversity survey in November 2020, and responses are still being collected. CBC/Radio-Canada, which is mandated to report its staff demographics, said in 2020 that 14.1 per cent of its overall workforce of 7,600 – including non-editorial staff – identifies as a visible minority and 2.1 per cent as Indigenous. A breakdown of the 1,900 English-service news staff is not available.)

Along with the ongoing charges that Canada’s mainstream newsrooms and their coverageare not truly representative of the country’s racial (and I’d also argue geographic and class) diversity, there’s been discussion about the real and perceived barriers that hinder easy progress: the general decline of media revenue and jobs, a lack of qualified BIPOC journalists, systemic racism and unconscious bias.

Solutions that have already been proposed – independent reviews, unconscious-bias training, mentorship programs, scholarships and fellowships, targeted hiring percentages – are noble and welcome. But they’re also generally short-term initiatives. Unconscious-bias training, for example, may unlock some deep conversations and self-reflection, but it’s over in a day or two.

Normalizing diversity in all facets of newsroom operations is a focused way to build the critical mass necessary to have any chance of tackling racial inequity in Canadian media, and to create the audience connections that are required for its survival. Achieving racial equity in journalistic content doesn’t have to be costly, but it does require an evolution in how news is defined, and in who is involved in that process.

A diversity of experiences that comes with a diverse staff tends to elicit more robust conversations that lead to more unique story ideas.

For example, the story meeting is a hallmark of most newsrooms, and what’s defined as the day’s “news” depends on the makeup of the people debating it. If most of them spent the weekend at a cottage, for example, frustrating highway construction delays might be top of mind. But is that truly reflective of what the audience cares about? A diversity of experiences that comes with a diverse staff tends to elicit more robust conversations that lead to more unique story ideas.

On the issue of hiring, experts estimate that 70 per cent of jobs are filled through networking; in other words, “friends and acquaintances hiring other trusted friends and acquaintances,” Matt Youngquist, the president of Career Horizons, said on NPR. BIPOC journalists certainly bring those kinds of contacts, but there’s also nothing stopping current senior leaders from expanding their own networks. I’ve been to dozens of journalism mixers, panels and events focused on diversity and attended by talented BIPOC journalists and promising students, but I rarely see white newsroom leaders who have hiring influence show up to make some new connections. It’s not the responsibility of a diversity and inclusion committee or BIPOC staff to hand over their contacts list.

I’ve been to dozens of journalism mixers, panels and events focused on diversity and attended by talented BIPOC journalists and promising students, but I rarely see white newsroom leaders who have hiring influence show up to make some new connections.

Of course, creating an environment where interesting ideas can surface means moving the editorial lens from a white-majority focus to an inclusive one. Which audience are you framing this for? Who is being left out and why? And how can we shift them to the centre? Again, this is not solely the realm of BIPOC staff, but of all newsroom staff.

CBC News, where I work now, is piloting a project to track diversity in our content. Early data from one show confirms the tendency to speak to a racialized person about racialized issues, rather than interviewing someone with a strong point of view or experience who happens to be BIPOC.

Put another way, instead of contacting an imam only when his mosque is vandalized or a Black business owner only to discuss racism, ask them for their thoughts on tax increases or the NHL season restarting during the pandemic to broaden how the audience sees themselves and to ensure the lived experiences of these communities are reflected back to them.

As this kind of news-gathering approach becomes status quo, the perspectives and stories that flow into the wider media landscape can then create more trust and support for the industry as a whole.

Source: Normalizing diversity in newsrooms is how we’ll tackle racial equity in the media

Lente marche vers la mixité [corporate board diversity]

May have missed the english media coverage:

C’est droit devant, inexorablement. Les gains sont là, mais la marche vers la mixité des conseils d’administration et de la haute direction demeure lente. On l’imagine, la cible se veut encore plus éloignée lorsqu’on élargit le parcours de la représentativité à la diversité.

La plus récente étude sur la question de la diversité a été publiée lundi par l’Institut sur la gouvernance d’organisations privées et publiques (IGOPP). Sur la mixité, on y lit que « même si les gains réalisés au cours de la dernière décennie sont notables, il reste beaucoup à faire en matière de représentativité des femmes sur les conseils d’administration (CA) ainsi qu’au niveau de la haute direction des entreprises ».

L’IGOPP proposait, il y a 10 ans, une cible de 40 %. Une référence mondiale situe, d’ailleurs, la zone de parité hommes-femmes optimale au sein de l’équipe de gestion entre 40 et 60 %. Cette représentation féminine a, certes, presque doublé depuis 10 ans, mais, à un peu plus de 29 % au sein des conseils d’administration des grandes entreprises inscrites en Bourse et à 26 % au niveau de la haute direction, on se retrouve encore loin de la cible.

Que dire des minorités visibles, qui comptent pour 22 % de la population canadienne, mais qui occupent moins de 5 % des sièges aux conseils et moins de 9 % des postes de haute direction ?

Le regard de l’IGOPP a porté sur 76 entreprises d’incorporation fédérale pouvant représenter le tiers des sociétés composant l’indice boursier S & P / TSX. L’exercice vient mesurer un premier effet des modifications apportées par le gouvernement à la Loi canadienne sur les sociétés par actions ayant pour objectif « d’augmenter la diversité observée au sein des conseils d’administration et de la haute direction des sociétés inscrites en bourse », en vigueur depuis janvier 2020.

Outre la présence des femmes, ces modifications visaient plus large en s’étendant à la représentation des peuples autochtones, des personnes handicapées et des personnes qui font partie des minorités visibles, explique l’Institut.

Cet élargissement suit l’entrée en vigueur, au 31 décembre 2014, de la réglementation sur l’Information concernant la représentation des femmes au sein des conseils d’administration et des instances des émetteurs assujettis. Au Canada, les autorités de réglementation n’ont pas retenu la formule de quotas, préférant plutôt une approche de divulgation s’étendant à la haute direction selon la formule « se conformer ou
s’expliquer ».

L’on parle donc d’un engagement moral, mais non contraignant, qui s’insère cependant dans une mouvance plus généralisée d’adoption des critères environnementaux, sociaux et de gouvernance auprès des investisseurs reconnaissant la portée et la contribution de la diversité.

Beaucoup à faire

Certes, l’exercice de l’IGOPP comporte ses limites et l’on admet une probable surévaluation de la représentation mesurée pour les postes de haute direction, mais l’on peut se faire une idée sur le chemin restant à parcourir et sur le rythme de renouvellement des administrateurs et des hauts dirigeants, qui constitue un frein aux yeux de l’IGOPP.

Et l’on retient que seulement 47 % des entreprises observées s’étaient dotées de cible à atteindre en matière de représentativité des femmes au sein des CA. À peine 18 % se sont fixé des objectifs précis touchant la haute direction.

Ce constat vient rejoindre d’autres études sur le sujet. En décembre dernier, le cabinet KPMG indiquait que 96 % des 100 plus importantes entreprises inscrites en Bourse soumises à la loi fédérale comptaient au moins une femme dans leur conseil d’administration au 31 mai 2020, contre 67 % au 31 mai 2014.

Inversement, 4 % de ces sociétés avaient un conseil d’administration composé uniquement d’hommes et 24 % avaient une équipe de direction entièrement masculine. Ces pourcentages s’établissaient respectivement à 33 % et à 29 % au 31 mai 2014.

L’on écrivait aussi que, s’il y a amélioration, il y a toutefois disparité entre les postes de conseil d’administration et ceux de la haute direction. KPMG a mesuré que deux fois plus d’hommes que de femmes ont accédé à des fonctions d’administrateurs entre le 31 mai 2014 et le 31 mai 2020, et trois fois plus à des postes de haute direction.

À l’évidence, il reste encore beaucoup à faire. Dans une étude mondiale publiée par le cabinet Deloitte datée du 30 octobre 2019, on lisait que, globalement, les femmes occupent 16,9 % des sièges aux conseils d’administration, soit une maigre hausse de 1,9 point de pourcentage par rapport à l’édition 2017 de l’étude.

À ce rythme, il faudra plus de 30 ans pour atteindre la parité, disait Deloitte. Et l’on ne parle pas des fonctions de haute direction.

Source: Lente marche vers la mixité