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How this woman wants to level the playing field for women in STEM

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Entrepreneur Dora Palfi discusses the work that still needs to be done for women in STEM and how her edtech company ImagiLabs came about.

The challenge around diversity and inclusion in tech often requires solutions from multiple sides of the problem.

Companies and industries as a whole need to do more to ensure the sector is as inclusive as possible and that it is successfully attracting and retaining diverse talent.

But there is also the question around education, particularly when it comes to women in STEM. There are many people advocating for education systems to encourage more young women and girls into science and tech disciplines, one of whom is Dora Palfi.

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Palfi is the co-founder and CEO of ImagiLabs, a Sweden-based edtech company making products that empower girls with the skills and community to create with technology.

She also has a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience with a minor in computer science from New York University Abu Dhabi and has studied human-computer interaction at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

‘Coding is a superpower. It’s the literacy of the next generation’
– DORA PALFI

“While science has always been a great interest of mine, it wasn’t until university that I discovered that technology – and more specifically, programming – could be a career path for me to pursue in and of itself,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.

“Since graduating, my career has taken me from working as a developer at Morgan Stanley and UX designer at Cisco, to my master’s degree in human-computer interaction.”

She said her passion for advocating for diversity and inclusion in tech came from her time at university, where she was shocked by the disproportionate ratio of men to women – not just with her fellow students, but with professors and speakers too.

Fast-forward to now and Palfi has set up ImagiLabs with her friend Beatrice Ionascu.

“Every day I find myself utilising my own background in technology, with the hope of making it a more inclusive sector,” said Palfi.

The edtech start-up has developed a mobile-first community for pre-teen and teen girls interested in technology. Last year, the company launched ImagiCharm, a wearable device with an 8×8 matrix of LED lights that can be visually customised with an accompanying mobile app.

“Users can learn the basics of Python programming by changing the appearance of their accessory, making coding visual, tangible, relevant, self-expressive and, most importantly, fun,” Palfi said.

“We believe that coding is a superpower. It’s the literacy of the next generation. By encouraging girls to learn programming, we are giving them the opportunity to be the inventors, entrepreneurs and changemakers that will help to design our future digital society.”

Making STEM an equal playing field

Gender diversity in STEM is an issue that has been widely discussed and there are plenty of positive moves in the right direction that will help move the needle.

Earlier this year, 45 companies signed a pledge committing to make Irish workplaces more inclusive, including gender pay gap analysis.

Industry giant Intel recently launched a new manufacturing skills course for women, teaching skills across electronics, electrical and project management. And non-profit Fastrack into IT is on a mission to grow Ireland’s tech talent pipeline with a new apprenticeship programme focusing on women.

However, Palfi said there is still a long way to go, with women in Europe still making up less than 30pc of the workforce for many tech roles.

“In terms of gender-related gaps, there’s actually very little difference between boys and girls in early ages,” she said.

“But we see the number of women interested in STEM drop off as they get older. According to a study by Google and Gallup, 12-year-old boys and girls share a similar interest in computer science. But by 14, only 12pc of girls are interested in computer science, compared to 47pc of boys.”

Palfi believes this is because girls are put off by a lack of support, representation and resources tailored to them.

“Many girls feel discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM not only because of the lack of visible role models in these sectors, but also because of a lack of leadership and encouragement from a young age,” she said.

“We need more initiatives that directly invite underrepresented demographics into the fold so that we can diversify the playing field.”

Palfi also said that there is much-needed myth-busting around what a career in STEM is, with some TV shows and mainstream media giving a “narrow and potentially off-putting idea” of what it means to be a scientist or mathematician.

“STEM fields are stimulating and often demand creativity, which is why diverse teams are so crucial to research and development!”

From her own experience, Palfi said she spent much of her education and career in male-dominated sectors and has become used to being one of the only women in the room.

“People are sometimes surprised when I tell them I’m the founder of a tech company, especially a hardware company,” she said.

“This is only because we don’t have enough role models in these kinds of positions, and seeing young, successful women in STEM is still shocking to many, despite the fact that our numbers are growing. Hopefully with time, more light will be shed on women in STEM who are making a difference, so that we can provide more role models for young girls.”

Advice for young women

While the onus should be on governments, educational bodies and STEM companies to make the industry more inclusive and diverse, what can young women do in the meantime to forge their own path in STEM?

“I encourage girls to find mentors and role models,” said Palfi. “In such an unequal environment, girls need all the help and encouragement they can get.”

With this in mind, she also said women and girls should find like-minded friends and community members in their area of interest.

“These don’t have to be expensive summer schools, they could be a local club, or even an online tool and community like ImagiLabs, which connects coding girls all over the globe,” she said.

“Another suggestion I would make is for young girls to combine their other interests with STEM. From building an app that supports your local community, learning about the science behind innovative solutions to climate change or using technology for social activism, there are so many ways that girls can integrate STEM into their everyday lives and pursuits.”

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Big tech’s pro-climate rhetoric is not matched by policy action, report finds | Environment

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The world’s biggest tech companies are coming out with bold commitments to tackle their climate impact but when it comes to using their corporate muscle to advocate for stronger climate policies, their engagement is almost nonexistent, according to a new report.

Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Facebook and Microsoft poured about $65m into lobbying in 2020, but an average of only 6% of their lobbying activity between July 2020 and June 2021 was related to climate policy, according to an analysis from the thinktank InfluenceMap, which tracked companies’ self-reported lobbying on federal legislation.

The report also sought to capture tech companies’ overall engagement with climate policy by analyzing activities including their top-level communications as well as lobbying on specific legislation. It found that climate-related engagement levels of three of the five companies – Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft – had declined compared to the previous year.

Tech companies, which have some of the deepest pockets in corporate America, have been racing to come out with increasingly ambitious climate pledges. Amazon has a target to be net zero by 2040 and to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, and Facebook has a target of net zero emissions for its entire supply chain by 2030.

In 2020, Microsoft pledged to become carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 to have removed all the carbon the company has ever emitted. Apple has committed to become carbon neutral across its whole supply chain by 2030.

And Google has pledged to power its operations with 100% carbon-free energy by 2030, without using renewable certificates to offset any fossil-generated power. “The science is clear, we have until 2030 to chart a sustainable course for our planet or face the worst consequences of climate change,” the Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai, said in a video announcing the policy.

Yet this strong pro-climate rhetoric is not being matched by action at a policy level, according to the report. “These gigantic companies that completely dominate the stock market are not really deploying that political capital at all,” said the InfluenceMap executive director, Dylan Tanner.

Tech companies have not been entirely silent. Apple, for example, has expressed support for the Biden administration’s proposed clean energy standard, which aims for all US-generated electricity to be renewable by 2035.

But these efforts are significantly outweighed by those of big oil and gas companies, which have ramped up their climate lobbying over the same timeframe, according to the report. “Most of their political advocacy is devoted to climate change and it’s negative,” said Tanner.

A lack of engagement is especially disappointing given the new momentum around climate action under the Biden administration, said Bill Weihl, a former Facebook and Google sustainability executive and now executive director of Climate Voice, which mobilizes tech workers to lobby their companies on climate action. “The dominant business voice on these issues is advocating against the kind of policies that we need,” he said.

Joe Biden’s $3.5tn budget reconciliation bill, which includes large investments for climate action, is facing fierce opposition from some industry groups. The US Chamber of Commerce, the country’s most powerful business lobbying group, has said it will “do everything we can to prevent this tax raising, job killing reconciliation bill from becoming law”. All of the tech companies, with the exception of Apple, are members of the Chamber.

“Our best chance to lead the planet to safety in the race against climate change is through this reconciliation bill, yet InfluenceMap has shown that big tech is still MIA on climate in Congress,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and longtime advocate for climate legislation.

Microsoft and Apple declined to comment on the report and Alphabet did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Amazon said the company engages at local, state and international levels to “actively advocate for policies that promote clean energy, increase access to renewable electricity, and decarbonize the transportation system”.

A Facebook spokesperson said “we’re committed to fighting climate change and are taking substantive steps without waiting for any legislative action”, adding that the company supports the Paris climate agreement goals and helped found the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.

But these actions are not enough given the scale of the crisis, said Tanner. The UN warned in a report published on Friday that even if current climate emissions targets are met, the world is still on a “catastrophic pathway” for 2.7C of heating by the end of the century. “We’re running out of time,” Tanner said, “physically on climate but also on a public policy level.”

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Some of you have dirty green credentials • The Register

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TechUK – the UK’s digital trade association representing computer giants and start-ups alike – has called on firms to check their green credentials and make sure they stand up to scrutiny.

The warning comes as UK businesses were told to brush up on their eco-claims or risk public humiliation and enforcement action by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Businesses have until the New Year to make sure their environmental claims – such as those regarding energy consumption, packaging, recycling, and product lifecycle assessments – comply with the law and are not simply an exercise in greenwashing.

As part of its efforts to steer companies, the CMA has published a six-point Green Claims Code in a bid to make it clear that anyone spouting eco-friendly claims “must not omit or hide important information” and “must consider the full life cycle of the product.”

The CMA is targeting sectors that some onlookers may regard as low hanging fruit including textiles and fashion, energy-hungry travel and transport, and fast-moving consumer goods.

However, any sector and the companies that operate within it – including tech – could fall within the CMA’s crosshairs.

In a statement, Andrea Coscelli, chief exec of the CMA, said: “We’re concerned that too many businesses are falsely taking credit for being green, while genuinely eco-friendly firms don’t get the recognition they deserve. Any business that fails to comply with the law risks damaging its reputation with customers and could face action from the CMA.”

However, there are worries the new rules may lead to confusion. In its evidence to the CMA, techUK said the six principles set out in the guidance were “not specific enough” and also called for more information to help tech firms. It also warned that different variables made in lifecycle assessments could lead to misleading results [PDF].

In a statement, Susanne Baker, associate director for Climate, Environment and Sustainability, techUK, told us: “The CMA’s guidance is important for any company making a green claim about their services, products and company. With more green claims being made by the tech sector than ever before, it’s absolutely vital that these aren’t deemed to be greenwashing.

“Firms have until the new year to address this and will need to think carefully about any green claim they make, be sure they can substantiate them, that they aren’t misleading, and are truthful and accurate,” she said.

The CMA announced that it was investigating the impact of green marketing on consumers last year when it found that 40 per cent of green claims made online could be misleading – suggesting that thousands of businesses could be breaking the law.

In June, The Register reported how a shortage of plastics – rather than a desire to protect the planet — could be one reason why recycled plastics may be working their way into laptops and other gadgetry.

Amazon recently found itself fending off a whistle-blower’s claims alleging it dumped unsold goods to landfill, and later bragged that it had achieved lower carbon “intensity” in its business practices. The latter claim was shot down by an unimpressed scientist close to The Reg who remarked that the fact Amazon’s business was growing was not “helpful to Earth”, and the fact it polluted less per unit of activity didn’t change the bottom line “which is that they are polluting more this year than they did last year.”

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced the electric car maker will stop accepting Bitcoin payments for its vehicles, due to the “increasing use” of fossil fuels, particularly coal, to support Bitcoin’s electricity-hungry mining and transaction processing.

An Intel sponsored report by non-profit Resilience First, highlighted in June the role of tech in reaching net-zero carbon emission goals. However, making chips has been a dirty business, with a 2002 study concluding that a single 2g semiconductor chip required a whopping 1.6kg of secondary fossil fuels and 72g of chemical inputs to be put into production. ®

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Fivetran nears five times its unicorn valuation as it plans further growth

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The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.

Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.

This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.

The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.

In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.

‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’
– MARTIN CASADO, A16Z

For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.

“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”

Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.

Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.

In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.

“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.

The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.

Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.

“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.

“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”

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