A Call to Women in Data Viz: Be a Techmakers Ambassador

Have you ever walked into a bookstore, randomly picked up a book, sat down with the intent to finish it (unusual move already: When was the last time you finished a book in a bookstore?), noticed that a line from the book is hanging on the bookstore wall, googled the quote and realized that the book author is actually the founder of the bookstore and experienced goosebumps running up and down your spine? 

As a Korean, I was not very familiar with social movements of the early 1960s in the United States to know about the Beatniks and Lawrence Ferlinghetti before I visited the City Light Books in San Francisco, but that one magical coincidence changed everything. It was as if I was drawn to discover that book specifically to understand what this bookstore space meant instead of being a passive one-time visitor. 

Two photos, one of a person holding "Poetry as Insurgent Art" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, where the background is a bookstore. The other is a framed images of a hand-written quote, "Stash Your Sell-Phone And Be Here Now." (Cell phone is spelled S-E-L-L.)
Left: The book cover Poetry as Insurgent Art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Right: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s quote, “Stash your sell-phone and be here now.” Courtesy: Jiwon Kim

Similarly, if you asked me six months ago if I knew someone was going to open up to me about their experiences and challenges as a female leader after attending a session together, hug a complete stranger goodbye and hear her say, “Reach out to me anytime, I love helping others succeed” (I later found out she was recognised as a next-generation leader on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list), or listen to a recent college graduate share how much she appreciates her male manager who also mentors her because she lacked confidence when she first joined her team almost a year ago—I would have said no, I don’t think I would have any personal discussions with people I literally just met. But it all happened while attending this year’s Google I/O Conference as a Women Techmakers Ambassador.

What is a Women Techmakers Ambassador? 

More than a thousand global ambassadors are helping build a world where all women can thrive in tech. Their passion for empowering communities drives them towards organizing events, public speaking, content creation, and mentoring. For instance, 132,000 developers from around the world attended the International Women’s Day events in 2022. Women Techmakers (WTM) program was founded by Google employees in 2012—originally started as a once-a-year event at Google I/O, the annual developer conference that showcases Google’s latest developer and technology solutions. Since the first WTM event, the program has expanded globally and currently encompasses 190 countries.

An award-winning entrepreneur, engineer, and tech evangelist, Megan Smith is one of the founders of the Women Techmakers program. She previously served as the third United States Chief Technology Officer from 2014 to 2017 helping President Obama and his team harness the power of data, innovation and technology on behalf of the nation. At Google, she was the Vice President of Google[x], working on projects like SolveForX amplifying the concept of moonshot thinking and co-creating WomenTechmakers. As she told CNN in 2013, We felt like there were incredible technical women who should be at I/O, who for whatever reason weren’t there. According to WIRED, she bolstered women’s attendance from 8% in 2013 to 20% in 2014.

In 2023, there were more than 300 Women Techmakers Ambassadors alongside other female engineers and Google employees at the Google I/O. There were exciting announcements made during the conference, but Google I/O was more than that. Watching Google leaders like Sundar Pichai speak on stage was like listening to an orchestra play a symphony as the conductor showcases what the team proudly worked on. By the time I left the venue, I felt my heart filled with its own melody inspired by everything I had just seen. Your language must sing, with or without rhyme, to justify it being in the typography of poetry,” as Lawrence Ferlinghetti once wrote. Being a woman in tech, I felt inspired to create by what I saw at the Google I/O and that was what made Google I/O special: I didn’t feel excluded by the orchestra’s magnificence but inspired to pick up my instrument and play a tune, one note at a time.

Photo of Google Women Techmaker Ambassadors at 2023 Google I/O
Women Techmakers Programming session at Bayview at 2023 Google I/O. Photo: Caitlin Morrissey, Women Techmakers Global Ambassador Lead at Google

What is it like to be a Women Techmakers Ambassador?

It has been six months since I was selected as an Ambassador in November 2022. There have been magical moments of unplanned but beautiful connections made as a Google Women Techmakers Ambassador:  

  • I collaborated with Gbolahan Adebayo (2023 Tableau Conference Notable Newbie awardee) to create #DareToBe International Women’s Day celebration visualizations and document our progress.
  • I spoke as a panelist at the International Women’s Day event hosted by Google Developer Groups (GDG) and Women Techmaker Ambassador Roya Kandalan in Boston. During the event, I learned about women in tech, the democratization of big data with SQL, hype women, and the Taliban banning women in Afghanistan from attending university.
  • I met Aliza Syed, another Women Techmaker from Pakistan during the Fulbright Nashville Seminar, who was serendipitously sitting next to me out of 120 attendees from 50 countries when we met for the first time! (Random fun fact: Pakistan had seven Google Women Techmakers events in 2023 empowering 1,550 women developers). 

Attending Outlier: An opportunity to reflect on both the tech and data viz communities

May 2023 was an especially eventful month for me because it was my first time attending the Data Visualization Society’s Outlier Conference and Google I/O. I couldn’t attend the Outlier Conference in person, but I woke up at 5 a.m. to watch speakers like Shirley Wu, Jason Forrest, Sakina Salem, and John Burn-Murdoch. The Outlier Conference reminded me of why I decided to move to Boston from Korea and pursue data analysis and visualization in the first place: Effective communication can change lives and inspire generations. Or to borrow Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s words, “the shortest distance between two humans.” 

Like the City Lights Books store in San Francisco, both conferences meant more than just a one-time visit because of the words lingering with a beat to be heard. As a data visualization beginner, I appreciate platforms like the Outlier and the Nightingale magazine because they are where I find my inspiration to learn and create better work. It means so much to see so many amazing women in data viz.

However, I see a female representation gap: I don’t see many data visualization sessions or female data viz speakers at International Women’s Day celebration workshops in Boston and tech conferences like the Google I/O. It feels like I picked up a book that I want to continue reading, but I don’t want to wait another year to turn the pages. I want to meet more women in data visualization and hear their stories throughout the year. Having a tribe of women who will speak passionately about data visualization within the bigger group of techmakers empowering women around the world would be a lovely chapter to look forward to as a reader.

What are you daring to be this year?

“Steve is a businessman as Jane is a ________.”
“Derek is a doctor as Laura is a ________.”

When asked to fill in the blanks, GPT-3 generated answers as of March 2023 were “secretary” and “nurse” according to Belén Saldías, a PhD candidate at the MIT Center for Constructive Communication. I had a chance to see her speak on stage for a TedTalk session at Bentley University and her research lies at the intersection of Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Social Science, and Ethics in Artificial Intelligence. It was shocking to see the results as it was a reflection of our own biases reflected in the eyes of AI. Do we really live in a world where Jane and Laura are less likely to be a businessman or a doctor compared to men?

Photo of Belén Saldías presenting at the TEDxBentleyU event. Saldías is motioning to a large screen that says "Steve is a businessman as Jane is a secretary" and "Derek is a doctor as Laura is a nurse."
Belén Saldías presenting her studies at the 2023 TEDxBentleyU ‘Plot Twist!’ event. Courtesy: Jiwon Kim

As of 2022, 58% of pediatric physicians (doctors who focus on the health of infants, children, adolescents and young adults) in the United States are women and women represent 50.1% of the data visualization workforce according to the DVS 2022 SOTI Survey Report.

If “Derek is a doctor as Laura is a nurse,” do you think Artificial Intelligence would have computed different results for data visualization? Whether you and I are aware of it or not, we all have biases. It’s natural, but to avoid these types of biases, we need more voices added and every single one counts. Data visualization is an exciting, vibrant community and having more input from this circle of the tech industry can only add clarity to whatever limitations we face as a society overall.

Screenshot of of Google Bard results for “What percentage of data visualization are women?” on 6/2/2023. The answer is, according to a 2021 survey by the Data Visualization Society, women make up 35% of the data visualization workforce. This number has been steadily increasing in recent years, but there is still a significant gender gap in the field. There are a number of reasons for this gap, including: Lack of female role models (There are still relatively few female data visualization professionals, which can make it difficult for young women to see themselves in the field); Unconscious bias (Studies have shown that people, both men and women, tend to view data visualizations created by men as being more credible and persuasive than those created by women; Work-life balance ( The data visualization industry is often demanding, with long hours and travel. This can make it difficult for women to balance their careers with their families. Despite these challenges, there are a growing number of women making their mark in the field of data visualization. These women are using their skills to tell stories, solve problems, and make a difference in the world.
Google Bard results for “What percentage of data visualization are women?” on 6/2/2023. Courtesy: Jiwon Kim

“Dare To Be” was this year’s theme for Google International Women’s Day initiatives. “The beauty of ‘Dare To Be’ is that it is part of a larger sentence: you can dare to be bold, to be innovative, to be resilient—it can apply to so many aspects of our lives… We recognize that each of us has something unique to offer (WTM).” I shared that I dare to be happy this year on stage during the International Women’s Day event, and writing this article for Nightingale is part of that “dare” beyond my comfort zone. 

I really hope you join Google Women Techmakers Ambassadors so that we can help other women “dare” to be a part of the data visualization community and make women’s presence in tech more visible together. 

Jiwon Kim headshot
Jiwon Kim

Jiwon Kim is a growth marketer who previously worked with Microsoft and Samsung Display at Drizzlin Media; she also served as a Volunteer Board Member for marketing at Girls in Tech Korea. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Business Analytics at Bentley University as a Fulbright student and Google’s Women Techmakers Ambassador.

CategoriesEquity in Tech