Techopia Live: Women in Data Science conference brings female speakers to Ottawa stage

The best way to see more women in STEM fields is to make the ones already there more visible, according to this week’s all-female panel on Techopia Live.

Women from Shopify, Leonovus, Montreal’s Element AI and the University of Ottawa engineering department dropped by ahead of next week’s Women in Data Science conference to preview the event and provide a few early insights into the conference theme of artificial intelligence.

Women in Data Science is an annual gathering spearheaded by Stanford University but hosted around the world. This is the first year Ottawa will host the conference, which welcomes participants of all genders but features exclusively female speakers.

“It’s important that girls and other women see themselves onstage,” said Alyson Gaffney, vice-president of strategic partnerships at Leonovus, principal of her own consultancy and the event’s local organizer.

Gaffney told Techopia Live that speaking engagements are often passed out within personal networks, a phenomenon that only perpetuates notions of an old boys’ club in tech.

“Men invite men to present at conferences,” Gaffney said.

Techopia Live
From left to right: University of Ottawa civil engineering student Zaineb Al-Faesly, Element AI research scientist Negar Rostamzadeh, Leonovus vice-president of strategic partnerships Alyson Gaffney and Shopify's director of data Solmaz Shahalizadeh.

Solmaz Shahalizadeh, Shopify’s director of data, agreed that the Women in Data Science event provides needed exposure to young girls curious about the industry. To those in attendance, she says the message is, “people who look like you or have the same characteristics as you have been successful.”

Shahalizadeh also spoke to the Ottawa conference’s theme of artificial intelligence, discussing what Shopify does in the space.

The local e-commerce giant has been employing AI to remove the mundane and repetitive aspects of merchant life, she says, as well as covering critical issues such as fraud detection. Shopify’s platform helps its users to detect whether an order being placed may be a scam or trap, keeping merchants’ inventory secure.

“In real-time, we assess the risk of the order being fraudulent or not. And we use machine learning and data to do that,” she told Techopia Live.

To hear more about how Shopify and Element AI are taking advantage of Canada’s AI boom, and the benefit of bringing women into the field, watch the video above.

The local iteration of Women in Data Science takes place on the morning of Monday, March 5 in the auditorium of the Canada Science and Technology Museum.