Welcome to the January issue of the Close the Data Gap blog. Each month, we interview either a member of our group or a guest speaker about their passion for gender equity and what they are doing to close the data gap in their corner of the world. This month Kirsten Madeira-Revell interviewed Jediah Clark, a member of Close the Data Gap.
What is your role and what career path are you currently following?
I have been a researcher in Human Factors for the past six years. For the last two years, I’ve been a post-doctoral researcher, and more recently part a research programme called the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) hub at the University of Southampton. Within that, we’re looking at trust in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and that’s for all communities and cultures across the world. We aim to ensure that new developments in autonomous systems are trustworthy and represent the people and what they want for the future. We also address things such as ethics and whether there is going to be harm to society.
In my role as a post-doctoral researcher, I work on collecting data and having people take part in simulations to see how they trust the behavioural algorithms that we design. I do work in many sectors, but my background is in automated vehicles which I still do a bit of research in. A lot of my work looks at Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology and anthropomorphic devices.
What aspects of the job give you the most satisfaction?
There’s so much about being a researcher that’s satisfying because you are driving new ideas and pushing the boundaries of science. I think anybody who is a researcher will probably give a similar answer. From my perspective, I get the most joy looking at statistics and data, and I’m usually the go-to person on that front. I like that you can take a snapshot of the world in its current state, and you can boil it down into something that someone can use. Unfortunately, people often get this wrong along the way, and it results in people using language in ways that can be harmful. Ultimately, I get satisfaction in my current role by making sure the correct voices are heard, and that there is a grounded truth in what is being represented, or at least the closest we can get to a grounded truth.
You are also a part of our Close the Data Gap group. Could you tell me what your role is and any other gender equitable organisations you are a part of?
Sure, my role in Close the Data Gap (CtDG) is to bring my experience as a researcher and my passion for sampling, research methods, and using correct statistical methods to the group. When it comes to conducting research, you have two sides of a coin here. On one side, you have people who are passionate about their ideas and what they want to see in the future. The other side of the coin relates to the data we collect and the reality of things. Ultimately, we should try and represent that data accurately without being biased by opinions. I think driving your ideas with good methods and doing things correctly is the fairest way to go about this and has a lot to contribute towards gender equity.
At the moment, I am not a part of many other gender equity organisations because they are hard to come across! In my experience, this is one of the more unique groups that I’ve been a part of. Within the school of electronics and computer science, I have worked on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity frameworks. I’ve also done a little bit of work with the Ethics Committee at the University of Southampton which had a focus on gender equity, but their main concern is on ethics within research generally. I am also a part of a project which is addressing gender inequality in using devices in automated vehicles.
What is the best thing about being a part of CtDG?
Many people think that these sorts of groups are pushy or aggressive, but CtDG is not like that. The main thing I like about CtDG is how inclusive and friendly the group is. Also, being a man as part of this group, I think gender equity doesn’t just serve one gender. A lot of the time, the people who hold power are harmed by it. In reality, I don’t think an equal world benefits men at all and my role in CtDG is not just to represent men but to help men in the process to understand the importance of gender equity.
To you, what is gender equity? What does it entail?
This one goes back a long way. People’s experiences of gender vary across many different people, societies, and economic backgrounds. All these different things mean that gender can represent itself quite differently. Having grown up in a relatively rough neighbourhood and around other men, I started to pick up on how men view other women from an early age. Even the people I am close with can say negative sentiments about women, which I have found surprising.
Based on my experience, gender equity, for me, is an outcome for all that is fair. However, I think that even behind closed doors, we should reflect on how we think about other genders, as well as our own gender. I think gender equity is about having a fair society, not just from actions, but also from the way you perceive gender, which I think is being kept behind closed doors at the moment. Moving into the future, I think we should challenge those conversations we have behind closed doors. Even when I was at school, I always found it strange how some of my friends would talk about women. Although people change over the years and evolve in the way they think, those same people who held misogynistic views are now in powerful positions. Knowing that they might have carried those views into adult life is worrying. There is a part of me that wants to challenge those views as much as I can and be a voice for gender equity for this subgroup of individuals.
Why do you believe gender equity within the research process is so important?
Gender equity represents a large portion of the grand issues we have in research, and it has also led to the notion that you are not practicing good science if you collect an unrepresentative sample. That is non-negotiable, however, throughout the history of science, we have not paid attention to that. Even today, I am reviewing manuscripts that use almost entirely male samples. It is infuriating as we are in the 21st century and we have sophisticated ways of sampling participants for research. There is no excuse not to have gender equity in research! This also goes for many demographics, but for gender, it’s been particularly damaging.
It is also interesting from a statistical point of view because you have this issue where people want to separate men and women by making claims on marked behavioural or performance differences. For instance, you may hear that men are more scientific or mathematically aligned, and as a result, women get excluded from STEM areas of research, but much of this line of thinking is a misrepresentation of data. For me, this is an issue because people are evidencing these claims using statistical margins without appreciating how small the effect sizes are. As a result, we are creating a divide between our population that is not backed up by the research process. In summary, data sampling and making sure your data is telling the correct story are the two main things that need to be championed in the future and are still not being represented the way they should be.
In what ways do you want to ensure your research is gender equitable?
Data sampling is often one of those over-looked processes where you aim to recruit as many participants as possible without considering whom you are recruiting. In my work, I follow the required sampling processes by ensuring my data has good age representation, and a gender split that reflects the population I am targeting. Care also must be taken as to what your population might look like in the future. For example, do we expect more women to take on roles that are currently male-dominated workplaces? These days, I also look for gender differences by default to ensure that we are not missing anything that could affect the findings. In addition, it is crucial to have people that can interpret qualitative data properly. I have learned early on that if you are doing qualitative work, you should have gender representation for the people analysing the data, reading the transcripts, creating the codes, and delivering the research at the end. There may be things that I might miss as a male researcher. I also review a lot of papers, and on that front, it’s important to make sure other institutions are following these guidelines and flagging up when something should not be published because it is not representative. As a reviewer, that is something I will continue to do and is something I want to focus on in the future.
What do you hope for the future in your field regarding gender equity?
I think that the world is rapidly changing, however, science is oftentimes slow. Research can progress slowly because of the focus on getting high-quality results. However, you can miss a lot of the change that occurs within the time it takes to go from findings to publication. Even in the space of a year, peoples societal views can shift a lot. If you think about ten years ago, for example, the world was completely different when it comes to views on gender equity. However, I don’t think research in general, and our field in computer science has caught up with that yet. My hope for the future regarding gender equity is that we can improve the slow research process and keep up with ongoing social changes.
What do you think will be the next big thing in your field?
Artificial Intelligence (AI), which I work in, is going to revolutionise the world, and will have a lot of power and potentially cause a lot of harm depending on the way people go about using AI. One way AI relates to gender equity is how we define learning algorithms. In order to develop AI, algorithms may use past data to make classifications. If we are always using past data, there’s a risk of classifying people based on their past behaviour or previous data collected about them that may not be valid in the future. AI may also make assumptions about you based on your characteristics, whether that is your gender, race, or any other demographic, because that information is used within the algorithm. We are already seeing this happen in social media and within targeted advertising. In that sense, the next big thing we need to consider is how we use peoples’ characteristics create more accurate predictions without discriminating people based on their gender or other-such characteristics. It’s almost like you have to partly discriminate to become more accurate, but at the same time, you end up misrepresenting a large part of your population, or further instilling stereotypes, at which point this practice is no longer ethical.
Outside of your job, what is the biggest gender data gap issue you face?
I am going to give two answers here. One will be personal and the other will be more related to loved ones, because they are two sides of the same coin and two different stories.
Firstly, as a straight white male who grew up around numerous other men, a lot of the time you find yourself putting a lot of masculine traits forward to fit in and be a part of your group. From a young age, I have always been emotionally open and sensitive. I cared for things like small animals or found myself interested in hobbies that are traditionally feminine, but I often found that those traits were attacked as they were not considered ‘manly’ behaviours. I think the most pressing thing for me is that if we are in societies where men dominate the workplace, people could end up putting forward a lot of masculine traits, which may not be good for themselves and the people they are working with. As a male, you can end up trying to fit in more by investing in different sports or trying to have an aggressive tone. At the end of the day, you just want to be friendly and feel like you belong within a group regardless of your interests and whether you are sensitive or caring, and I feel that if women have the opportunity to be represented in traditionally male-dominated groups, that this would benefit our world, the workplace, and the solutions we create
From another point of view, I also see my loved ones get harassed or out-right abused by other men in everyday interactions. Even when I am with my girlfriend in the street, I have witnessed men acting completely unacceptable towards her. It’s challenging from my point of view because you don’t know whether to stand up for a loved one because I don’t feel comfortable being aggressive, and a lot of times you feel a lot of guilt for how men treat women. Those situations can often leave me feeling a bit helpless and sad for the state of the world, but it is an issue I am learning how to navigate.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to make a difference to gender equity in their corner of the world?
I would say to always take a chance on other people, no matter what their background is. Talking to men, or women with different backgrounds may highlight that they experience the same things as you. Conversely, those conversations may highlight different ways of viewing your problems. For example, women from another generation may share their experiences of having children and shed light on that experience, but they may not fully understand what having children is like for women of the modern age. The same goes for men, for instance, males from other cultures may have different ways of looking at gender. Having conversations with people from different backgrounds can provide more insight on gender issues and represent all the things that may factor into this. By hearing everyone’s experience, rather than making assumptions, only then can we create a gender-equitable world.
Thank you Jediah. It’s been fantastic having your specialism on data as part of our group and also the male perspective. Please do not change and continue your career as a sensitive male, it is a great model for both men and women.
For more on the TAS-Hub and their Equality and Diversity Framework, visit: https://www.tas.ac.uk/equality-diversity-and-inclusion/
If you’d like to stay up to date with Jediah’s data insights and research journey, visit and subscribe to his blog at: https://jediahclark.com/