The ADVANCE Resource and Coordination (ARC) Network convened scholars from multiple disciplines for a two-day workshop to prioritize under-studied research questions under the general theme of Using Big Data and Algorithms to Foster Equity in STEM. The Research Advisory Board of the ARC Network, a National Science Foundation-funded initiative at the Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN), identified this theme as a primary area in need of further research exploration as well as policy and practical intervention in academic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workplaces.
This theme was selected because of the ways in which big data and algorithms often perpetuate inequity, discrimination, and violence against people from marginalized communities. For example, facial recognition software used to unlock cell phones, for airport passenger screening, in employment decisions, in ride sharing applications, and for law enforcement surveillance not only raises privacy issues, but also dangerously and consistently has the poorest accuracy when used to identify the faces of Black women (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018; Watkins, 2021). This is a problem not only because we want the technology to work, but because marginalized individuals are disproportionately targeted. At the workshop, the planning committee sought to discuss the possibility of how big data and algorithms might instead foster equity, particularly in STEM fields.
Members of the workshop planning committee nominated scholars working in these areas who represent a diverse array of disciplines, research specialties, institution types, career stages, and social demographic backgrounds. Twenty scholars and practitioners convened in December 2021 and participated in a series of facilitator-led discussions designed to culminate in a research agenda of under-studied questions that will advance understanding of using big data and algorithms to foster equity in STEM.
By the end of our time together and with additional input from the larger community of researchers and practitioners, the group prioritized three research frontiers:
The three priority areas emerged from extensive discussion among workshop participants, and suggestions for expanded research needs are provided. In addition, other questions where research is needed include:
We encourage researchers to consider pursuing these topics and exploring the questions described within this report, especially in collaboration across fields and with practitioners.