Increasing British Columbia’s capacity in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Science (AI/ML/DS) is of strategic business, economic and social importance today and will only get more important in the future as every major industry is deeply affected by AI/ML/DS.

And yet, BC faces a major challenge in developing its workforce to sustain competitiveness: women are highly underrepresented in this field.

Athena Pathways intends to change that.

Women comprise approximately 20% of the tech industry workforce in BC, below the national average of 25%. In universities, women earn 50% of bachelors degrees but only 18% of computer science degrees, and the percentage has been dropping over 30 years.

Gender imbalance is a particular threat to the performance of AI technology because models are algorithms fitted to data, and diversity is a critical part of accurate models. Meanwhile, numerous studies show that financial performance significantly lags in companies that lack diversity.

Led by the Artificial Intelligence Network of BC (AInBC) and industry players MetaOptima, Teck Resources, Careteam, KPMG, SCWIST and D-Wave, Athena Pathways is a partnership with Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, UBC, SFU, BCIT and Northeastern University to deepen BC’s pool of scientific/technical expertise and make it more inclusive, while delivering real value in the form of trained interns, workers and executives to businesses currently starved of talent.

Under the program, the four educational institutions are developing courses and workshops in AI/ML/DS for women at the highschool, post-secondary and career levels. Over 300 scholarships are available to women who enroll in many of these courses.

In addition, the corporate consortium partners, along with dozens of other hiring partners in industry, are providing internships, full time positions and mentorships to women in AI.

Athena’s near term goal of enrolling 500 women in high-school and university courses, internships and mentorship programs could approximately double the number of women currently working for industry in these fields today as well as delivering $2.7 million in direct, quantifiable benefits to the economy plus benefits not immediately measured totalling far more.

Courses, scholarships, internships and mentorships are now open for applications online.