3 min read

This year the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference is asking serious questions to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at NeurIPS. “Our goal is to make the conference as welcoming as possible to all.” said the heads of the new diversity and inclusion chairs introduced this year.

The Diversity and Inclusion chairs were headed by Hal Daume III, a professor from the University of Maryland and machine learning and fairness groups researcher at Microsoft Research and Katherine Heller, assistant professor at Duke University and research scientist at Google Brain.

They opened up the talk by acknowledging the respective privilege that they get as a group of white man and woman and the fact that they don’t reflect the diversity of experience in the conference room, much less the world.

They talk about the three major goals with respect to inclusion at NeurIPS:

  1. Learn about the challenges that their colleagues have faced.
  2. Support those doing the hard work of amplifying the voices of those who have been historically excluded.
  3. To begin structural changes that will positively impact the community over the coming years.

They urged attendees to start building an environment where everyone can do their best work. They want people to:

  • see other perspectives
  • remember the feeling of being an outsider
  • listen, do research and learn.
  • make an effort and speak up

Concrete actions taken by the NeurIPS diversity and inclusion chairs

This year they have assembled an advisory board and run a demographics and inclusion survey. They have also conducted events such as WIML (Women in Machine Learning), Black in AI, LatinX in AI, and Queer in AI.

They have established childcare subsidies and other activities in collaboration with Google and DeepMind to support all families attending NeurIPS by offering a stipend of up to $100 USD per day.

They have revised their Code of Conduct, to provide an experience for all participants that is free from harassment, bullying, discrimination, and retaliation. They have added inclusion tips on Twitter offering tips and bits of advice related to D&I efforts. The conference also offers pronoun stickers (only them and they), first-time attendee stickers, and information for participant needs.

They have also made significant infrastructure improvements for visa handling. They had discussions with people handling visas on location, sent out early invitation letters for visas, and are choosing future locations with visa processing in mind.

In the future, they are also looking to establish a legal team for details around Code of Conduct. Further, they are looking to improve institutional structural changes that support the community, and improve the coordination around affinity groups & workshops.

For the first time, NeurIPS also invited a diversity and inclusion (D&I) speaker Laura Gomez to talk about the lack of diversity in the tech industry, which leads to biased algorithms, faulty products, and unethical tech.

Head over to NeurIPS website for interesting tutorials, invited talks, product releases, demonstrations, presentations, and announcements.

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