artificial intelligence

This year, International Women’s Day takes up the theme of #ChooseToChallenge, by celebrating and profiling women who are challenging the status quo.

One of the most frequently discussed sectors for gender inequality is business technology, and in particular artificial intelligence (AI). A traditionally male-dominated, Silicon Valley start-up culture, has left many women fighting to find their way into the industry.

Indeed, the gender gap in AI in real. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report found just 26% of professionals in Data and AI are women – and one of the major challenges is changing the perspective of those that view it as a “male career path.”

With this in mind, industry changemakers from across the world who are part of Amelia’s Women in AI initiative have come together to share their thoughts around what it means to be a woman in AI, and how they found a place and voice in the industry.

From those at the top-leading AI-centric businesses, to those at the coalface developing the technology, here are their perspectives on what #ChooseToChallenge means to them:

#ChooseToChallenge means fighting historic gender norms

Ekaterina Stoianova, Cognitive Project Lead at Amelia, called out the need for women to have a professional and personal support network system to help them achieve their goals, and the importance of companies helping women define a career path beyond their current job. Very much in line with this year’s theme, she sees the biggest challenge as being “our fears getting in our way… Historically boys have been brought up to be brave, and girls to be polite.”

Similarly, Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, SVP & CMO at Unisys, states the first thing to do is “have confidence in yourself” and embrace the “swagger” that comes from Silicon Valley leaders. Viewing confidence as a state of mind that preludes success, Ruckstuhl argues women must first believe in themselves despite historic gender norms and perceptions that show otherwise. As Ekaterina comments, “In modern society, gender definition is slowly losing its relevance and after all, all of us equally should be brave enough to face our fears and bold enough to go beyond and put ideas forward.”

Keep learning: Know your stuff and be curious for more 

Another common theme we’ve seen from leading Women in AI is around building and feeding an endless curiosity to learn more about the field. As Ruckstuhl argues, “Women are uniquely qualified to create win-win outcomes’ – but you must ‘be competent and know your stuff”.

Moreover, Nadia Carolina Rojas Ramirez, Project Leader at global bank BBVA, reveals that “studying informatics is one of the best things I’ve ever done.” She notes that it “allows [her] to see things from another perspective”– and has also made her a force to be reckoned with. After receiving advice from a mentor that “the one who perseveres reaches,” she has found that at difficult points in her career, Ramirez has been able to dig deep and ensure she has had the tools to study, network and innovate when required.

As a result, by studying and being able to take ownership of projects from the commercial to technical sides, Ramirez has strengthened her position: “I knew not only about the business, but also about the technical,” which has helped her to open doors further along in her career.

Have a support network – and make sure you’re giving back

Having a support network was cited by many Women in AI as key to their success. Ekaterina points out that having family, and especially her partner, by her side, has been a huge support for her: “When I got promoted, my husband surprised me with the “Nice girls don’t get the corner office” book. This gift was not only a nice gesture of reassurance, but it also made me realize that there are indeed differences in behavior and perception that we sometimes don’t give enough importance to.”

There is also a desire to give back to other women at different stages in their careers, particularly for those just starting out. Ramirez gave back by building an AI academy after achieving success in her own career. “Suddenly I was a reference about artificial intelligence, chatbots, voicebots and smart assistants in Mexico,” she comments.  “Currently I’m part of women in artificial intelligence core team in Mexico and I’m starting to create the best artificial intelligence academy to give people the opportunity to learn about AI.”

For Raagini Chadha, Lead Conversation Designer and Experience Strategist at Acronotics, a key driver in her own work is being part of a programme at her current company that is helping get more women into leadership roles: “We’re doing a mentor-mentee programme right now, with women in the organisation sharing their strong suits with other women, in an attempt to pull each other up. It’s amazing to see everyone root for each other.”

Final thoughts

While there’s no question that there is still a stark gender divide in the AI industry, more and more companies in the tech and AI industry, as well as communities like Amelia’s Women in AI initiative, are helping to lift up and support women– and long may this continue.

As Shikha Khetrapal, SVP, Head of Strategy at Marsh & McLennan, points out, “navigating this heavily male dominated industry has been challenging… It is our collective responsibility to create a fair and equitable world so we can harness the immense potential of our diverse talent pool through education, communication and engagement.”

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