#13 Paris Women in Machine Learning & Data Science Hors-Série n°2: Women, Science, & Society with Nicole El Karoui & Hélène Périvier
We were treated like queens 👸 and kings 🤴 by meilleursagents on the 28th of March 2019 in central Paris. Exceptionally, we held the WiMLDS Paris meetup in French to welcome Nicole El Karoui and Hélène Périvier. If you could not be there, good news > the meetup has been recorded! 🎬 The video is at the end of the post.
The meetup had a special guest: graphic facilitator Béatrice Lhuillier, who kindly agreed to do live drawing of the discussion. You can admire her work here!
According to our tradition, a host representative, Sarah Soleiman-Halevy, PhD student at meilleursagents and the Panthéon-Sorbonne University, talked about data science challenges she is working on, followed by our own Natalie Cernecka, who introduced news from the Paris machine learning and data science community:
🗞 The Data Analytics Post is looking to interview women data scientists, engineers, or researchers! Highlighting women experts in Machine Learning and Data Science is crucial to create role models. If you are interested to be featured on the website, get in touch with us via email@example.com 😎
Our first speaker was mathematician Nicole El Karoui, a key figure in the development of mathematical finance. Nicole, who entered École Nationale Supérieure de Sèvres in 1964, used the metaphor of bridges to tell the story of her 55 years in maths. Bridges are used to connect culturally close but historically different places (e.g #. Pont des Arts in Paris); they can take you to unexplored places, with no certainty how and whether you come back; and, if they hang over a ravine, they can make you feel very, very small…
The first bridge Nicole crossed was the one towards probabilities, after having discovered the work of Kolmogorov. A bold move, given that neither probabilities nor women had a very good reputation among mathematicians. This bridge took her to working on a PhD, together with two other (male) students — which she describes as a key opportunity. In 1987, when computers became available to do Monte Carlo simulations, Nicole crossed a new bridge, towards financial markets. Later on, as it became clear that mathematical finance was here to stay, and that quantitative engineer became a sought after profession, Nicole took yet another bridge towards teaching, founding the grad program in probabilities in finance at the Paris 6 University. More recently, Nicole stepped onto yet another bridge, related to her current research topic: longevity.
Our second guest was Hélène Périvier, researcher in economics at Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Économiques, and director of PRESAGE, a gender studies program at Sciences Po. Hélène gave an introduction to feminist economics, whose premise is the impossibility of being neutral and unbiased when studying economics. Take for example the economists who consider themselves “neutral and unbiased” yet always model families in ways that assume women stay at home — the fact that these economists tend to be white men needs to be transparent. Hence the rise of feminist economics, answering questions that come from a woman’s perspective.
Hélène’s talk was followed by a lively debate, which Nicole quickly joined, around women, science, and society. Many ideas were discussed, from quotas to invisibility, from sexual harassment in higher education to paternity leave, from the importance of team work to the joy of teaching… Caroline Chavier, of the Paris WiMLDS team, had done her homework and prepared a long list of questions, but our audience was active and the debate turned into a lively discussion involving many people in the room!
Just a few insights … Hélène gave us her opinion on masculine-as-neutral for job names: it makes women invisible. Some women don’t mind being called un directeur and not une directrice because “it’s the function”, but, Hélène argued, the function is neither directeur nor directrice, but direction.
Aiming at equality is essential, but both our guests insisted on the need to think your policies through. Nicole gave the example of École Nationale Supérieure becoming co-ed; not having a selection mechanism to recruit exclusively women (for the Sèvres campus) led to fewer women in total becoming ENS students (as few as zero, in some recent years), which in turn led to fewer French women among world-recognized mathematicians.
As for quotas, here’s Nicole suggestion: Put 30% of women everywhere. Sure, they’ll be told they aren’t any good; it’s even possible they’re actually not any good; but at least they’ll be there.
On the 21st of May 2019, Chloé-Agathe Azencott and Caroline Chavier will speak about WiMLDS Paris during the 4-day-conference organized at Jussieu to celebrate Nicole El Karoui’s 75th birthday. Join us!
If you want to keep posted about our activities, you are welcome to:
📑check our Google spreadsheet if you want to speak 📣, host 💙, or help 🌠
📩send an email to the Paris WiMLDS team to keep in touch >firstname.lastname@example.org
📍join our Slack channel for more discussions about machine learning, data science, and diversity in tech!
🔥 Feel free to share your company or lab’s job positions for free on WiMLDS’ website.