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Bias in Tech, Michelle Obama: Broadsheet July 20

July 20, 2018, 12:17 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Michelle Obama launches a voter registration push, people are donating their vacation days to their pregnant co-workers, and 70% of Americans think technology is increasing people’s biases. Have a relaxing weekend.


 Bias in, bias out. At Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference this week, I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating session led by my colleague Ellen McGirt. It was titled "Is Technology Inherently Biased?," but it didn't take long to answer that question (yes!) and move on to start thinking about solutions.

Panelist Jon Cohen, SurveyMonkey's head of research, shared a poll the company conducted exclusively for the conference, which found that 63% of respondents believe technology is doing more to justify biased decisions than to remove bias from decision-making. In addition, 70% of respondents said that tech does more to amplify people's biases than diminish them. Shockingly, both conclusions held firm across racial, ethnic, age, and even partisan lines. (Democrats and Republicans actually agree on something!)

The poll didn't ask people to specify what they thought of as bias, but there are plenty of options to choose from. Need an example? Just Google Image search "CEO" and take a look at all those white male faces.

So, what can tech companies do to start stripping the bias out of their products? The most important thing, of course, is to press tirelessly to diversify the people who are building those products. "The output is only as good as the input," said panelist Bärí Williams, legal and operations adviser at Owl. If the only people creating the technologies are white men, the products will continue to reflect the biases and perspectives of white men—and continue to fail women and people of color.

Karla Monterroso, CEO of Code2040, urged companies to create "bias bounties," payouts or other rewards for people who find and report bias in the company and its technologies. She also suggested that attendees start segmenting their attrition data, so they can identify whether they are losing women and people of color at higher rate than white males. Finally, Monterroso challenged companies to give up a particular facet of their bias—the preference for grads from elite universities—and bring on a more diverse range of hires. "[They] can code just as well as people from Stanford," she said. "Let them prove themselves."

Read my full story here: Fortune


 A gift that should be a right. In perhaps the most disturbing trend story I've read in awhile, GMA writes that donating vacation days to soon-to-be moms is "a trendy co-worker baby shower gift." While it's clearly a generous move on the part of the donors, the fact that women are so lacking in maternity leave that they have to depend on the kindness of their colleagues to get some paid time off to care for their babies is a stark reminder of just how draconian our treatment of new moms in the U.S. remains. Good Morning America

 Michelle rocks the voteMichelle Obama has launched a new voter registration initiative, When We All Vote. The project, which, much to the frustration of Democrats, is nonpartisan, aims to raise an $8 million dollar budget to help put more Americans on the voter rolls. Fortune

 Bravo! More than 100 survivors of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse took the stage at the ESPYs on Wednesday to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which is presented to those who “reflect the spirit of Arthur Ashe, possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost." Fortune

 The only woman in the room. The world wants to know what President Trump said to Russian President Vladimir Putin—and only one other American knows for sure. Marina Gross was Trump’s interpreter in the Monday meeting, and she is now facing calls from Congress to testify about what was said. New York Times


 In her own words. Virginia Heffernan asks whether there's "a feminist framework for reading [Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes] that takes into account her gender and singular experience as a beginning chemical engineer and self-made female billionaire that doesn’t absolve her of traditional moral responsibility—or, worse, agency?" Hoping to get a better grip on Holmes by listening to the disgraced entrepreneur's own words, Heffernan says she watched all available videos of the talks Holmes has given over the years. Here's what she gleaned:  Wired

 Getting framed. Framebridge, the framing startup led by CEO and founder Susan Tynan, has closed a $30 million Series C financing round led by T. Rowe Price Associates. TechCrunch

 Don't ask. The New Republic tackles a frequent Broadsheet subject: laws or policies that ban employers from asking candidates about how much they've made in previous jobs. While much of this story treads familiar ground, I was interested to read about a recent experiment that found that "employers who couldn’t see salary histories actually did more individualized research into candidates, and candidates were better able to bargain for higher starting salaries." The New Republic

 Married to the mob. Rather than serving as protectors or accomplices, it appears that an increasing number of women associated with the Italian mafia are actually helping the authorities capture their husbands or boyfriends, often in an attempt to "stop their own children from getting sucked into a life of crime." The Daily Beast

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Brittany Lincicome will play golf against the men. Where’s the fuss?  New York Times

Durban FilmMart, CaribbeanTales push co-production opportunities for women of color  Variety

"Someone else's problem": Six women learn the confusing, ambiguous reality of confronting an alleged harasser  Washington Post

In Jello Girls, a dark family history behind a candy-colored dessert  New York Times


Women in particular... I want you to get more involved. Because men have been getting on my nerves lately."
Former President Barack Obama, urging women to run for office