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BlackSpace Boston

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Challenge Statements

Creating a more welcoming boston for the black community 

  • The City of Boston has developed a reputation as being unwelcoming and difficult to navigate for members of the Black community. While diversity does exist within the city and the surrounding metropolis, many Black individuals that move to the area find it difficult to find a sense of community, often feeling a sense otherness and exclusion. This feeling of social isolation is a two-sided issue. stems from many causes. Two of those primary causes may include a 1) lack of knowledge difficulty obtaining knowledge of the local social and cultural events that speak to their life experience, local businesses that serve their particular needs, and job opportunities that might be a good fit for them and 2) lack of inclusion that manifests as real and perceived bias in employment, education, housing, health care, and economic attainment.
  • While we recognize that this is a big issue that has persisted over time, we would like to advance potential solutions that address the sense of social isolation that Blacks feel and  how local institutions might support inclusion and take practical, visible steps demonstrating their interest in mitigating some of the bias that contributes to the isolation and disparities.   For example, collaborative efforts between the Black community and local minority and majority institutions might be one approach.The solutions could be programmatic, policy-driven, and/or involve a technology application.

 

Socioeconomic inclusion at Work

  • Companies are prioritizing diversity and inclusion within their talent pipelines, but often times this prioritization remains limited to visible markers of diversity - sex/gender and race, primarily. Other forms of diversity often go less noticed, including socioeconomic diversity. Traditional hiring pipelines for some of the world’s largest companies remain top universities and ‘prestigious’ employers, which already skew toward pulling people from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Limited talent recruiting resources, combined with the fact that companies legally cannot ask about socioeconomic status in the hiring process, often leave recruiters hoping they have a well-rounded set of candidates. In reality, they are often times preventing well-qualified individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from attaining the “American Dream”. 

  • How do we ensure large companies find a diverse pool of individuals from all financial backgrounds and enhance the possibility for social mobility?

 

MACHINE LEARNING BIAS (Sponsored by amazon)

  • With the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies like Machine Learning (ML) into industries as diverse as healthcare, finance, and retail; the creation of tailored experiences for each individual could become ubiquitous. ML is already used to recommend the preferred treatment for someone living with cancer, the suggested amount for a loan application, and the perfect garment for someone attending a wedding. While many people may welcome these personalized experiences, the line between providing a tangible benefit and stereotyping could blur. Multiple studies have shown that ML models can replicate and sometimes even amplify the biases from either their authors or their data sources. Some examples are image-recognition software that associates women with domestic chores and men with sports, speech-recognition software that understands native English speakers much better than people whose English is their second language, or recommendation-engines that use Zip Codes as the bases for assumptions on people’s demographics and income levels.  
  • How can these ML models be better trained to truly benefit individuals while mitigating the impact of underlying biases in their authors and data sources? How can the input data be monitored for bias and be made transparent for auditing to a diverse set of people? How can the output of ML algorithms—such as product recommendations—be communicated, monitored, and even counteracted if biases are found to be culturally/personally insensitive? What should the design principles be for developing unbiased ML models?

 

Leading Diverse Teams at Work

  • There is a strong business case for diversity in teams, however many managers are ill-equipped to lead their teams effectively, often giving coded/ gendered feedback, such as telling a woman to “take up more space”. While larger companies may provide some training, many managers at small companies are ill-equipped, and without the resources to adequately recognize and alleviate implicit bias that shows up in team environments. For example, telling a more introverted person to “speak up more” even though they talk just as much as his or her peers in meetings.
  • How can we prepare managers in start-ups and small businesses to tackle implicit bias while the company is still young, as opposed to correcting a bias-filled, exclusionary culture after a company has scaled?

     

    Female Founders

    MIT is a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, but being a female founder presents a unique host of challenges in an already formidable environment. Below are three aspects of a female founders’ experience that could be reimagined or reconsidered to promote female entrepreneurship.

    • Addressing the female funding gap: In 2016, venture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in companies with all-male founders. Women received just $1.46 billion. And there is a sentiment that female founders are judged, and awarded funds, based on performance, while men are judged on potential. How can we level the playing for female founders so they are given a fair shot at securing funding? How can VC’s do a better job at screening (in person and on paper) when determining access to and levels of funding. 
    • Integrating your life and passion: Women already face intense pressure to achieve superwoman status. To not only pursue careers but also be devoted wives, mothers, and take on much of the mental burden of running a household or business. For female founders, achieving integration can be even more challenging as the demands of building a startup often requires 100% of your energy. How can female founders prepare themselves for the conversations and timing associated with founding a business while pursuing personal lives
    • Effectively building a network: Another challenge female founders face is how to build a network in industries that are predominantly male. Female founders lack access to a male dominated network of VC’s (only 7% of partners at the top 100 venture firms are women.)
    • How can we establish better ways to facilitate more informal male/female mentoring? Furthermore, female founders frequently feel that the few women at the top are harder on them than even the men. How can we build a strong, cohesive, collaborative (rather than competitive) female founder community? What does this take?

     

    "pigeon-holing" of asian americans 

    • Research indicates that Asian-Americans (including East and South Asian-Americans), face significant anxiety due to bias and racism, but are sometimes left outside of diversity and inclusion conversations. Many in this group are anxious about the career opportunities that are available to them, exhibiting concerns about getting pigeon-holed in roles early-on in their career. For example, some Asian-Americans may be given roles in analytics without being given the chance to demonstrate and hone their communication skills in larger meetings and presentations. Beyond this, some feel that a perception as “academic” or “introverted” might limit their ability to engage socially in the workplace.
    • How do we ensure that Asian-Americans are included in all aspects of the workplace, ensuring that they are given equal opportunities to engage equitably in work, social interactions, and career development?

    ability / disease stigma

    • In 2016, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 10.5 percent, which is more than double the 4.6 percent unemployment rate for those without disabilities. Despite the existence since 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability, there remains a clear job access gap for qualified individuals with disabilities who are seeking jobs. Recent research suggests that job applicants with disabilities face bias from hiring managers, and that the job access gaps appears to be concentrated among small private firms. In a recent study in which fake resumes and cover letters were sent for more than 6,000 job postings in the accounting field, applicants with the same qualifications who disclosed a disability (either Asperger’s Syndrome or a spinal cord injury) received on average 26% less employer interest than those without a disability. The type of disability disclosed made little difference in the level of employer interest.
    • How do we combat bias against qualified job applicants with disabilities in the hiring process?

     

    Being lgbtq in the workplace 

    • Until early 2017, LGBTQ workers remained an unprotected class in the workplace. Only in the past year in the groundbreaking Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling did it become illegal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, workplaces closed to diverse sexualities and gender representations remain largely intact. Recent statistics show as many as 50% of all LGBTQ-identifying workers - and as many as 73% of senior executives - remain closeted in the workplace. With these statistics in mind, it is clear that there is still perceived stigma against being openly LGBTQ in the workplace. Many hypotheses exist as to why the corporate closet remains difficult to exit for LGBTQ persons, ranging from gendered language and expectations in the workplace, to uncertainty over career trajectory and promotions.
    • How might we facilitate open-expression of sexual and/or gender identity in the workplace, allowing for individuals to feel that they have an equal playing field for personal and professional success?

     

    Diversity and Inclusion Education at Business Schools

    • Despite diversity and inclusion training (including unconscious bias training) being an $8 billion business annually, there is little evidence to support that the current trainings are effective in changing attitudes or behaviors in a way that reduces workplace bias and discrimination. In fact, some argue that this training helps legitimize bias. Today’s business students will be tomorrow’s business leaders. It is imperative that they not only recognize and address their own unconscious biases, but that they also establish an inclusive workplace environment that enables effective talent utilization. Additionally, these leaders must prevent their brands from being tarnished by a reputation of their employees or other stakeholders engaging in discriminatory behavior.
    • How can modern tools and technology be used to create more effective diversity and inclusion training programs for business school students that will instill in them the importance of establishing inclusive workplace environments as future business leaders? How can we measure the effectiveness of these programs?

     

    STEM Inclusion - Expanding the pipeline 

    • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields continue to suffer from a lack of diversity  (underrepresentation of African Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities as well as women) at all levels despite over 40 years of efforts.  There is a lack of participation and completion of undergraduate STEM majors, graduate level degrees at masters and doctoral levels and a scarcity of minorities reaching the highest levels of academics, corporations and entrepreneurship. This occurs in part because of a lack of awareness of possibilities (inappropriately low aspirations) and lack of knowledge about and access to appropriate preparation.Most models include either mentorship or awareness/aspiration building programs but lack coordination of skill building,  access to key academic resources, experiential learning (research/internships),  transmission of key requirements for long term success,awareness and mentoring or provide it only in short time periods/limited geographies. This limits their impact since building a STEM career requires long term commitment.
    • How do we develop and implement  a scalable pilot for supporting development and implementation at an appropriate organization/institution? What level should we target – middle or high school, college, graduate schools,  early career, etc?

    Culture Monitor

    • There are more frequent occurrences of brands in the news, called out for being culturally insensitivity or 'tone deaf'. The result of this problem is not only bad publicity, but bad business, including  lost sales, lost endorsements and partners, and diminished reputation.  A recent occurrence of this was with H&M’s ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ hooded sweatshirt modeled by a Black child.  H&M issued an apology and ultimately withdrew the shirt globally.  A high profile collaborator pulled out.  Riots and looting in South African stores forced their closure. And many re-imagined what a positive campaign would have looked like. Some social media platforms are hiring batches of people to individually read individual lines of text and to review images.  Ultimately, they use personal judgement to determine whether a post meets the criteria of needing to be flagged, pulled, or an account suspended.
    • How can technology be coupled with cultural competence to create efficient, scalable ways to flag information that is culturally insensitive or inflammatory in social media and advertising, including in early stages prior to broad dissemination?

     

    healthcare: community approaches to diabetes prevention

    • Chronic illness rates related to obesity including type 2 diabetes are rising rapidly in many population groups in the US. These are particularly prevalent among  certain ethnic groups (African Americans, Hispanics and South Asians) and the poor. Simultaneously, health care access is declining because of disruption of the health care insurance market and potential cuts in Medicaid and Medicare are likely to reduce access even further by putting pressure on hospitals and safety net providers such as community health centers. There is evidence that some community and peer based programs ( CDC diabetes prevention program provided by Ys and other community organizations such as the Black Women’s Health Initiative) can be effective in supporting diabetes prevention (through education, nutrition, exercise and social support). These programs involve significant human resource components which can limit scalability. There are also for profit organizations scaling on line approaches but these may not be affordable for all.
    • How can we expand use of community and peer based approaches and leverage technology for scalability to address this key health issue in the context of reduced access to traditional health care services?

     

    First food VISUALIZATIONS

    • Geographies with no baby-friendly hospitals, no lactation services, no lactation consultants and no peer support groups have been called “first food deserts” because they create a climate of poor support for breastfeeding where it is extremely unlikely that breastfeeding will be successful.
    • How can we best visualize those first food deserts at national scale so that we can direct resources and support to the communities most in need?  What are the implications for required investment?
    • Are there correlations that would provide more support for the benefits of breastfeeding- for example the relationship to educational achievement? Public health advocacy and investment to eliminate food deserts?

    Please check back frequently as more challenges will be posted to this page in the coming weeks. Additionally, we welcome you to submit any discrimination or bias-related challenges you are passionate about hacking to us at hackforinclusion@gmail.com.

    Let's drive greater inclusion, together.