NYU Ally Week comes to Tandon

Julia Stoyanovich

Assistant Professor Julia Stoyanovich speaks about responsible data use during NYU Ally Week

With the entire university marking NYU Ally Week from April 8 to 12, Tandon students, faculty members, and staff are exploring and educating themselves about ways to advocate for solidarity and collective justice and trying to deepen their understanding of the experiences of others.

Julia Stoyanovich, an assistant professor both in NYU Tandon’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering and at the NYU Center for Data Science, is deeply engaged in studying the ethical and responsible use of data, and she appeared on April 11 at Tandon’s “We for She: Activating Male Allyship for Women in STEM” event to discuss the sometimes shocking ways that the analysis of big data can be subject to bias.

Stoyanovich, a recent recipient of a prestigious NSF CAREER Award, cited as examples a case in which a search engine displayed ads for an executive job-coaching service to six times more men than women, and one in which Amazon developed, and later scrapped, a recruiting tool that showed bias against women, teaching itself based on historical data that male job candidates were preferable and downgrading graduates of two all-women's colleges.

Big data is algorithmic, so people assume it cannot be biased, she explained, yet all the traditional evils of discrimination (along with new ones) can be found in the big data ecosystem, and bias that is inherent in the data or in the process (often due to systemic discrimination) is amplified. We need novel technological solutions to identify and rectify irresponsible data analysis practices, she asserted, but cautioned that technologists alone cannot solve the problem; policymakers, educators, and users must all play a role as well.

With key decisions in many sectors now being determined algorithmically — from determining where schools are placed in a neighborhood, to choosing who is approved for parole or singling out the best applicant for a job — it’s imperative that data analysis is conducted in ways that ensure fairness and transparency.

Stoyanovich, who shared the stage with NYU Silver Professor of Chemistry Michael Ward, who spoke of his own path to becoming an ally, is not only a stellar example for young women aspiring to be scientists, technologists, and engineers, she’s proving that STEM fields like data analysis can be deployed in the fight against discrimination.

“The event today helped to tell the story of why male allyship is an important factor in increasing representation of women in STEM,” Assistant Dean for Opportunity Programs Nicole Johnson, who also chairs the Women at Tandon Committee, said. “And Professor Stoyanovich provided strong evidence of why gender diversity and inclusion in STEM are important beyond issues of parity.” 

To learn more about Stoyanovich’s work in ethical data management and analysis, visit Data, Responsibly.