The sold-out 2021 Women in Tech Symposium highlighted the future of human-computer interaction in a myriad of fields including food systems; aging in a digital world; self-driving vehicles; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in tech; and more.
Held during Women’s History Month and hosted by the Women in Tech Initiative at the University of California, the 2021 Women in Tech Symposium drew a sold-out virtual crowd of more than 650 attendees.
In its fifth year, the event focused on human-computer interaction (HCI), a multidisciplinary field that combines new technology in cyber-physical systems with human-centered design and usability. The symposium examined leading-edge technologies and challenges to ensuring equitable and inclusive HCI.
Kicking off the symposium, researcher Leila Takayama offered a vision for the future of HCI: “Our field is making powerful and useful tools that real humans use to improve their lives. I see opportunities for HCI to be more inclusive and to increase access for diverse communities.”
Throughout Takayama’s fireside chat with Berkeley Engineering Dean Tsu-Jae King Liu, Takayama asserted society’s need for human-centered design. “When creating and deploying new technologies, industry must consider the stakeholders who use and are affected by HCI decisions,” Takayama said. “Considering direct and indirect stakeholders is at the heart of value-sensitive design.”
Panels and “Two Approaches” conversations covered a range of topics and fields, including food systems; aging in a digital world; self-driving vehicles; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in tech fields.
In the panel “HCI and Health: The Future of Health and Well-Being,” UC Davis Associate Professor Kathy Kim discussed the hope and hurdles facing health technologies. “Self-tracking technologies raise awareness of a user’s behavior but don’t change behavior on their own,” Kim said. “For underserved populations, it’s not enough to simply provide a new technology; there are infrastructure barriers—digital literacy, health literacy, WiFi access, and more—facing these populations. We have a lot of work to do on that front.”
Throughout the event, Athena Awards were presented to four distinguished recipients: UC Merced Professor Teenie Matlock, World Economic Forum’s Sheila Warren, UC Davis Assistant Professor Katia Cánepa Vega, and the nonprofit organization Self e-STEM. Each Athena Award winner received a custom award designed in the CITRIS Invention Lab by CITRIS Senior Designer Dan Chapman. This year’s award is a laser-cut mechanical iris that opens to reveal the winner’s name.
The Women in Tech Initiative also announced that it was changing its name to the Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity in Tech Initiative (EDGE in Tech). The decision was made to reflect the initiative’s inclusive programming and outreach efforts.
During her opening remarks, Camille Crittenden, executive director of CITRIS and the Banato Institute and co-founder of the Women in Tech Initiative, noted that over the past year the program solicited feedback and guidance about how to be more responsive to contemporary challenges. “We believe that Women in Tech’s new name will better support the initiative’s efforts to foster systemic and scalable change,” said Crittenden.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, also in attendance, noted EDGE in Tech’s transformation. “This is a timely evolution, as the pool of applicants to Berkeley for the class of 2025 is the most diverse yet,” Christ said. “I welcome opportunities for EDGE in Tech at Berkeley and other UC campuses to encourage the unique perspectives these students will surely bring to their studies and to campus life.”
During the closing talk “Sustainable Disruption: Ensuring an #InclusiveHCI Future Is Not Enough,” Melody Ivory shared her research into what she calls the “alphabet of tech harm” that workers and users face. These tech harms, she says, contribute to 63 issues, threats and outcomes that are amplified, caused or enabled by tech products, services, and organizations. These harms include bias, homogeneity, trolling, violence, and more. While exclusion is on her list, she noted that the other 62 tech harms are also important and need to be addressed.
Additional speakers included Katia Canepa Vega (UC Davis), Ankita Raturi (Purdue University), Jenna Rodriguez (CERES Imaging), Christina Harrington (DePaul University), Uma Balakrishnan (Tesla), and more.
The event concluded with a free student career fair to offer undergraduates the opportunity to meet with recruiters, engineers, designers, and researchers from leading tech companies to explore careers in HCI, UI/UX, and more. Graduate program and research center representatives also attended.
“Attendees were energized by the discussions and inspired by the speakers’ varied career paths, backgrounds, and experiences,” EDGE in Tech director Jill Finlayson said. “Seeing and listening to so many accomplished women in tech fields who are creating change gives others the confidence to persist in male-dominated fields, and the career fair made those pathways into STEM more visible.”
The fifth annual Women in Tech Symposium was sponsored by Facebook, Lam Research, University of California, Fortinet, Sandia National Laboratories, UC Cyber-Risk Coordination Center (C3), Intel, Berkeley School of Information, Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, Berkeley Center For New Media (BCNM), Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence (CHAI), Berkeley Haas, Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC), the Internet of Things for Precision Agriculture (IoT4Ag), UC Davis College of Engineering, Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership, the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals (ISSIP), UC Santa Cruz Center for Computational Experience, Berkeley Bakar Fellows Program, and the National Security Innovation Network.
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.
To learn more about CITRIS, sign up for our newsletter: bit.ly/SubscribeCITRIS