Women key to Canada’s AI future, Ottawa conference hears

If Canada wants to make a name of itself in artificial intelligence, its tech firms better start paying more attention to half of the population.

That was the message from speakers at Ottawa’s Women in Data Science conference on Monday, several of whom joined Techopia Live after the formal presentations for a wrap-up panel.

The Women in Data Science conference, where all genders are welcome but only female speakers take the stage, began as an initiative from Stanford University. It’s now hosted in cities globally, with Monday morning’s event at the Canadian Science and Technology Museum marking the first time the conference has come to Ottawa.

Keynote speaker Jodie Wallis, Accenture’s Canadian artificial intelligence lead, told Techopia Live that there’s no denying AI’s importance in the future of business. Sales, marketing, fraud prevention and new products and services currently in development will hinge on machine learning and data science, she believes.

“That’s where we think the future lies,” Wallis said.

Cindy Gordon, CEO of SalesChoice and board member of the Ottawa-based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, agrees with Wallis and says Monday’s conference was a step towards that future.

While Gordon told Techopia Live that Canada has what it takes to be a leader in the space, bringing more women into the space will be critical to realizing the country’s potential.

“If we want to dominate and lead in AI, we’re not going to get there unless we promote and attract more women,” she said.

IT World Canada President Fawn Annan pointed out that some of the day’s most positive development came from the men in attendance. Male chief executives were asking questions about how to be more inclusive of female talent and remove the unconscious biases that many believe have long kept women out of STEM.

“What I thought was great is that the men are listening. They want to get involved too, and they want to do things that are more forthcoming for women to feel comfortable in the environment,” Annan said.

To hear more insights from the Women in Data Science panel on Techopia Live, watch the video above.