Cindy C., 29 – FUNDED

“I am extremely grateful to be selected as a New Face of Tech! Amidst the whirlwind of balancing school, volunteering, and learning more about my dream field of algorithmic accountability, it’s so reassuring to be recognized for my hard work and desire to pursue a STEM career focused on social good,” says Cindy C. who dreams of being a data scientist working in algorithmic fairness and responsibility. With a B.A. degree under her belt — Honours Business Administration from Western University in London, England — she is now working on her master’s degree in Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences at Columbia University. “This award gives me the encouragement to keep going when things feel tough, knowing that organizations like HARMAN and 1,000 Dreams Fund are fully supportive of my aspirations.

What does being the New Face of Tech mean to you?

It’s incredibly meaningful and motivating to be recognized for my determination to pursue an education and career in data science — and for my hard work in promoting the professional and personal development of women and girls in STEAM. I’m honored to be chosen among all the other accomplished and dedicated women paving the way and will do my best to always be an inspiring face of tech for other women.

Women are underrepresented in STEAM. How can we change this?

In July 2021, a Black female teenager was removed from a Detroit skating rink after facial recognition technology mistook her for a criminal. Unfortunately, I was unsurprised to learn about this error since facial recognition technology is known to be the least accurate among racialized women. Meanwhile, Amazon was forced to shut down its secret hiring algorithm in 2018 that automatically rejected all female applicants.

When I hear about these “oversights” in artificial intelligence where technology is more harmful to certain groups of people — especially women — I firmly believe that these issues could be avoided if there were more women involved at all levels of these algorithms’ development. After all, developers and other computing professionals often build and test technology that inadvertently works best for people like themselves; and, for a long time, this has primarily benefited white men.

With more women involved in every step of the process, they can identify inclusivity-related oversights and gaps more quickly, think outside the box, and better champion the interests of marginalized groups. The previous examples of AI errors, however unintentional they may be, demonstrate the serious consequences of technology that is not inclusive or fair. With stakes so high, we need women to pursue computing to make technology development much more thorough, rigorous, and equitable, thereby enhancing the quality of and public confidence in what is deployed.

As a staunch advocate for women’s professional advancement, I also am committed to helping women as an underrepresented group enter STEM. Speaking from experience, women considering a STEM field want to be assured that they will be supported and encouraged to succeed in every step of their careers. It’s not enough to recruit young women into STEM only to witness their growing disillusionment by the lack of advancement opportunities or support, resulting in their exit from tech-related roles. We can encourage women to pursue STEM by setting up formal partnership programs, such as ongoing mentorship and sponsorship programs, where women have male and female superiors from whom they can solicit candid advice and who will vouch for their promotion or candidacy. This will not only retain underrepresented talent but will also grow the proportion of women in STEM-related senior leadership positions towards parity.

What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?

I’ve definitely encountered situations where I’ve been written off or questioned for being a young woman who wants to enter a highly technical field. Likewise, the cost of grad school has also been a major challenge and can feel like a very isolating endeavor since my family cannot provide any financial support.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

This might sound unconventional but, for me, staying motivated and focused involves looking backward and forward! I keep a list of things I’ve accomplished — even if it’s something small like finishing a novel, taking part in a one-day volunteering initiative, or learning something useful in class. It’s so easy to get caught in the moment of the next challenge and the next daunting goal, but we need to remind ourselves of how much we’ve actually achieved and how much we’ve grown! At the same time, I also try to keep the big picture in mind. It’s easy to get lost in the details, but we can’t lose sight of why we’re doing the things we’re doing. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

How will funding from the 1,000 Dreams Fund and HARMAN help you reach your goals?

Affording graduate school is extremely cost-prohibitive. This funding makes that challenge much easier so that I can also balance my other passions — like being a Youth Committee Board Member for hEr VOLUTION, a nonprofit that creates technical and leadership training workshops for girls and young women in underrepresented communities. This funding will also make it more accessible for me to attend conferences and talks on the topic of algorithmic fairness to broaden my understanding of the discipline and become an active contributor to thought leadership in this area someday soon.