My week at re:Invent 2022 started with a welcome breakfast for the winners of the All Builders Welcome Grant program. The program offers underrepresented technologists in the first five years of their career a free trip to re:Invent. It was created to provide an opportunity to learn, network, and find sponsors and mentors, while removing financial barriers to conference attendance. The program has grown steadily and has tripled in size, with around 500 participants from 42 countries this year. For someone like me, who has been attending tech events for nearly twenty years and campaigning for diversity, the experience has been both exciting and frustrating. It was exciting because, in case there were still any doubts, diverse talent is plentiful if technology is ready to seek it out and provide an opportunity. It was also frustrating because, by and large, technology still uses the same antiquated and now properly debunked pipeline excuse for lack of diversity.
Within AWS leadership, there is a strong belief that technology should be built inclusively, diversely and equitably and that the company has a responsibility to make that happen. All Builders Welcome serves as a bridge between the current status quo and the future of technology. During the week, the winners had the opportunity to:
dig deeper into the importance of inclusion, diversity, and equity (ID&E) in the cloud
explore ways to give back to underserved communities alongside the AWS Global Social Impact and Nonprofits teams
dissect what it means to practice alliance at AWS
· Enter the world of startups to learn how AWS Impact Accelerator graduates are using AWS to transform their businesses.
Throughout the event, the push for inclusion was evident. From providing 19 opt-in pins so attendees can immediately see pronouns, languages, convenience for networking, and more, to accessibility services offered free to attendees, including translations offered for 8 different languages , American Sign Language, access to Communication Real-Time Translation (CART) and illustrative visual guides. Sensory rooms and bags were available for neurodiverse attendees or those with sensory needs and service animals were welcome throughout the event. Kosher and halal meals were available on request and lactation, prayer and reflection rooms were available as well as toilets for all genders.
In an interview, LaDavia Drane, Global Head of ID&E at AWS, explained, “At AWS, we start with inclusion because it’s important that everyone feels included. It is important that people know that this work begins and ends with you, regardless of your race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, where you are from or where you grew up. You have a place, and it takes all of us together to work through these issues and challenges to come out the other side. We can hire as many people as possible to get diversity addressed, but I’m going to walk out the back door if I’m not feeling quite right. Then we work on fairness because we have to keep working on fairness. So I think without inclusion, the rest falls away.
Bridging the Educator Gap
We all know that technology lacks diversity. But when it comes to some of the hottest areas of tech, like the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), the racial and gender disparity has reached a critical point. AWS wants to try to remedy this by making AI and ML education more accessible to underrepresented groups. In addition to the $10 million ML education and scholarship program launched in 2021 and free access to dozens of hours of free training on machine learning models and educational materials, AWS Machine Learning University is now launching a free program helping community colleges, Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), and historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) teach database, AI, and ML concepts. The program combines an educator empowerment boot camp with a rich curriculum to help institutions obtain course content and increase their teaching capacity to deliver next-generation technology courses.
According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, Black and LatinX students represent only 4% and 13% of all engineering degrees, respectively. “What we have realized is that the average elite four-year institution spends between two and five times more per student than some of the smaller two-year community colleges where most underrepresented students are concentrated. . By proactively targeting this educator empowerment program and providing the free student-based program, we can remove cost as a barrier and lack of educator knowledge as a barrier and really help these smaller colleges and universities accelerate technology skills they can provide to their students,” Mike Miller, Managing Director of AWS Thought Leadership in AI and ML, said in an interview.
In 2023, AWS plans to host six Educator Empowerment Cohorts. These programs will build on AWS’ premier machine learning university, which is designed to train Amazon employees and will provide educators with continuing education credits and an AWS stipend. As part of the program, AWS will also provide free computing power to help students apply AI and ML concepts and experiment with AWS services in a cloud-based sandbox. This will give students hands-on experience with popular data, analytics, and ML tools.
Providing more opportunities for underrepresented groups to see AI and ML as viable career paths will help foster diversity in the industry and, more importantly, in the products that come from it. Many sessions throughout the conference focused on ethical AI and how to limit bias in ML models. AWS is also increasing the number of tools available to ensure that ethics is as much of a priority as any other aspect of AI architecture. Yet nothing can be as effective as a more diverse group of voices in the decision-making process.
Make inclusion as important as sustainability
In a Q&A with industry analysts, CEO Adam Selipsky said sustainability was mentioned by customers in at least 75% of the meetings he had over the past year.
Amazon, including AWS, has worked hard on sustainability, aware of the impact the company itself has on the environment.
At re:Invent, AWS announced its commitment to be water positive (water+) by 2030, a goal that its global water use efficiency (WUE) metric of 0.25 liter of water per kilowatt hour shows as very achievable. Going water+ means making its operations more water efficient and increasing reliance on sustainable water sources such as recycled water and rainwater harvesting. Water used in data centers can also be returned to communities to be reused for irrigation in agriculture. Finally, water must be replenished by expanding access, availability and quality of water. This announcement is in addition to Amazon’s $10 million commitment to Water.org to support the launch of the Water & Climate Fund, which will provide climate-resilient water and sanitation solutions to 100 million people in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This donation will provide 1 million people with direct access to water by 2025, providing 3 billion liters of water each year to people living in water-scarce areas.
The positive impact AWS can have on the environment is not limited to what it can do within its organization. The tools the company provides to its customers to achieve their own sustainability goals will help extend and accelerate that impact.
The same can be said for inclusion, diversity and equity. Unfortunately, this aspect of ESG practice is not yet considered as a priority in the same way as sustainability, mainly, and wrongly, because many leaders are unable to see the business opportunity it represents. Furthermore, for many leaders, inclusion, or lack thereof, is a uniquely American issue, lowering its priority in large, often international organizations. Drane, however, warns that the need is universal and so the work must be done globally. “Everyone wants to be seen,” she said, explaining that some of the limits that privacy laws outside the United States place on collecting employee data don’t prevent organizations from doing so. directly investigate their talents and gain knowledge. So while AWS does this work internally, it also provides tools for customers to create better company cultures, such as working with ADP on access and addressing the pay gap.
Internal change, education, empowerment tools. A formula that works for both sustainability and ID&E. The sooner we start to see these issues as highly interconnected, the broader the impact we can have.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analytics, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author has no ownership interests in the companies mentioned in this column.
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