Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Building Diverse Talent for an Ethical Future of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

August 12, 2021

A year on from our inaugural Machine Learning (ML) for young women event we regrouped and, again collaborating with UCL, created an experience that was bigger, better and bolder.

You might ask why our ML event is only for young women and people who identify as female or non-binary? And that’s a good question.

Introduction to ML/AI with Pete Rai

Eighteen months ago, Pete Rai, Principal Engineer in Cisco’s Chief Technology and Architecture Office, asked our Corporate Social Responsibility team to help address the lack of women in the ML and Artificial Intelligence (AI) fields. He cited several ML and AI data points that led to unfair outcomes for women and felt we could work towards changing this by getting more young women interested in careers, in ML/AI.

That’s how the concept for this event was born, but then we had to overcome the challenge of finding young women who were interested in learning about ML and AI and would want to attend the event. There’s a common misunderstanding that you need to be studying computer science to learn about ML and AI, but actually Maths is the essential subject and more young women study Maths than Computer Science. We began reaching out to 6th forms and colleges, inviting young women studying Maths A Level and the uptake was incredible. Over 50 women attended our inaugural event with many citing the influence it had on what they chose to study at university and the career paths available to them. Plus, they were fascinated by how the technology is built on mathematical concepts and how it can be flawed and negatively impact minority communities.

For our 2021 one-day virtual event, we widened the invitation parameters to young women studying A Level Maths, Statistics and Computer Science; and we doubled our attendee levels to 100 students. With seven Ml and AI experts leading the event, we discussed diversity, data and ethics, learnt how to get to grips with the technology and chatted to the students about their thoughts and experiences.

Presenter and slide on Webex

Pedro presenting AI IRL session


We heard how ML is being used to combat fake news and we got down to the nuts and bolts with an AI 101, or as we called it AI IRL (Artificial Intelligence In Real Life) with our own Pedro Oliveira.



Image of presenter and slide in Webex

Dr Maria presenting “Can AI Enable a Sustainable Future?” session

Robert Elliot-Smith, the author of Rage ‘Inside the Machine: The Prejudice of Algorithms’ and ‘How to Stop the Internet Making Bigots of Us All’ joined us to share his thoughts. And a group work session was run by Dr Maria Perez on what sustainability means in the world of ML and AI and how these technologies could improve sustainability.


Female UCL students on virtual panel discussing "Why Study AI?"

“Why study ML/AI?” panel with female UCL students studying ML/AI

We held a couple of panel sessions to encourage interaction. In the first panel we heard from six students studying at UCL about what inspired them to study ML and AI and their educational journey.

Our other panel sparked a passionate conversation over the necessity for diverse data and people in the world of ML and AI for it to be ethical, and whether the technologies are a good or a bad thing. With Professor Marc Deisenroth and Rula Awad from UCL, and Katie Shay our Head of Data Protection & Human Rights for Cisco, leading the debate it made for a thought-provoking session

Off of the success of this year, we’re already busy planning the 2022 event. If you’d like to find out when it’s happening, please follow our social media channels:


If you’d like to delve further into what we talked about, you can watch the sessions.

Intro to AI – Pete Rai
Combating Fake News – Rula Awad
AI IRL – Pedro Oliveira
Women Own AI: forgotten history, future promise – Robert Elliot Smith
Panel – Why Study AI? UCL Students hosted by Tom Kneen
Could AI Enable a Sustainable Future? – María Pérez
Panel – Is AI a good or a bad thing? – Marc Deisenroth, Rula Awad and Katie Shay hosted by Chandni Panchal

We hope that you will hear something that may inspire you to find out more about a career in ML/AI.





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