Aisha Naseer

Inspirational Woman: Dr Aisha Naseer | Director of Research, Huawei R&D UK

Meet Dr Aisha Naseer, Director of Research at Huawei R&D UK

Aisha Naseer

Dr Aisha Naseer is the Director of Research at Huawei R&D UK, where she provides strategic direction on AI research and innovation as part of the company’s work around the development of responsible AI. She also leads several corporate discussion groups on strategic partnerships to help promote a thriving ecosystem. She is an innovative scientist and GDPR-certified professional, with several patents and research publications to her name.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve always had a passion for knowledge and a habit of relentlessly asking questions. As a child I remember asking so many that I was a bit of an annoyance to my parents and teachers. In class, I always made sure to sit at the very front so that all my queries would be heard and answered. As impertinent as I perhaps was, these habits developed my ability to stay focussed on topics that matter and committed to whatever task is at hand – no matter what others may think of me!

Currently, my biggest project consists of promoting diversity and inclusion in AI technologies, as these will play an integral role in the sustainable societies of the future. In the past, I’ve made impactful contributions to various global platforms, such as the United Nations and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and helped lead the global conversation around such issues.

I’m also a big believer in the vital role AI standardisation bodies have to play from the perspective of bias mitigation, accountability, and transparency, which is why I joined the British Standards Institution (BSI) as member of the International (ISO/IEC/JTC 1) and European (CEN/CLC/JTC 21) standardisation Joint Technical Committees (JTC).

I’m also proud to say I volunteer with the Women in AI (WAI) UK Leadership team as their Strategic Lead and Advisor, helping to promote initiatives and partnerships that encourage women involved in the field at all levels. In addition, I am also a founding member of the Editorial Board of the Springer Journal of AI and Ethics and sit on the MIT Sloan Management Review Responsible AI Expert Panel (MIT SMR-BCG). And I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never planned my career as such, but I have always been passionately curious, eager to do work for the good of society, and very goal-oriented. These were the qualities that set me on the path to where I am now, by leading me to complete my PhD in less than 2.5 years and maintain a positive approach even during tough times.

After my PhD, my enthusiasm in health informatics inspired me to pursue a postdoc, during which I had to deal with diverse stakeholders. I then put those skills into practice by going on to lead cross-cultural groups on diverse topics like AI ethics, trustworthy AI, semantic interoperability, health informatics, and more. And it was by building on those collaborations that I’ve come to participate in a number of industry bodies since, such as the EU AI Alliance, AI4People and the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems.

I suppose it’s a question of knowing which goals I wanted to achieve at each stage of my career, and then being able to visualise the next stage thanks to everything I had just learned. It’s not the only way to do things, but it’s certainly what worked for me.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

It’s unfortunately common for women to be faced with lots of difficulties in the workplace, especially when it comes to showcasing their achievements, asking for promotions, or challenging a colleague. Rather than correcting this state of affairs by being very upfront and outspoken, I’ve always believed it’s best to communicate these things with modesty and grace. But it hasn’t always been easy, and is something I’m not sure men have had to think about quite so much.

Moreover, as a woman who wears a head scarf, it has often been difficult to feel fully adjusted and accepted among high-flyers in Western society. People can be prone to judge you based on appearance first, and substance second.

Furthermore, being a wife and mother while pursuing a demanding career has also brought its own struggle, with some employers reluctant to hire and promote women who have children.

Despite this, I’ve never wavered in my commitment my core values of diligence and decency, as well as delivering tangible outcomes and meaningful results in my work. I hope to inspire the next generation to do the very same.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

As a woman from an ethnic minority, having my accomplishments recognised, appreciated, and acknowledged at a global level is something I’m immensely proud of. I’ve spoken at world-renowned events like the Technische Universität München’s Responsible AI Forum (TRAIF) and United Nations AI4Good Summit, and earlier this year, I received global recognition when I was selected for Women in AI Ethics’ “100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics List 2022“. I don’t know what the future holds, but when I cast a look back, it sometimes startles me to remember just how much I’ve achieved.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I would credit my values and my faith with a lot of my personal successes. From a values perspective, I always try to strike the right balance between thinking about what’s good for me and what’s good for the collective, something humanity hasn’t always got right. And when it comes to faith, I know its my belief in God that has gave me the strength to keep moving forwards in many uncertain times.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Anyone pursuing a career in technology needs to have an appetite for learning new things, as technology evolves at an ever-increasing pace. A good thing to do to keep up to date is to read the latest news articles and research publications, and you can also seek out courses and qualifications online.

For women specifically, I would advise them that while its important to adapt to any workplace, you should never compromise on who you are. It sounds cheesy, but I do think that being true to oneself is essential to achieve success, whatever the field.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are definitely still barriers facing women in tech, and there will be until enough global awareness of gender inequality is raised; this is a major structural problem which we all have a duty to change.

On an individual level, however, women in tech will be well served by qualities like determination and perseverance, and a passion for learning and producing knowledge. Leaning into softer, non-technical skills can be advantageous too, as every professional setting benefits from staff who can multi-task, communicate well, promote positive atmospheres and generally think outside the box!

None of these macro problems will be solved overnight, but we mustn’t forget that there are small but important things we can do to improve the here and now.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

It is imperative that companies guide and support women working in technology, by acting responsibly in terms of diversity and inclusion. One solution is for companies to provide talent enhancement and talent acquisition programmes, which can support women in the industry to progress and clarify their career paths. They should also offer internships to women in their early career stages that can lead to permanent roles.

Companies should also provide free online learning resources. As an example, Huawei’s ICT Academy offers video courses and tutorials on a range of technical skills, as well as qualifications for operating the most advanced, state-of-the-art technologies & tools.

Women only account for 21% of technology sector jobs, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would ensure a sense of responsibility towards women’s success was embedded at the core of all organisations, and that all businesses were actively working towards achieving gender equality, reducing the gender pay gap, and promoting more women to senior and executive positions.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I highly recommend they take a look at the Huawei ICT Academy, which offers a whole host of free resources on everything a tech professional could hope to learn!

 

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Isabelle Freeman, Huawei

In Her Shoes: Isabelle Freeman | Cyber Security Executive, Huawei UK

Meet Isabelle Freeman, Cyber Security Executive at Huawei UK

Isabelle Freeman, Huawei

Isabelle is a Cyber Security Executive at Huawei UK. In this piece, we talk about a typical working day, her advice for those aspiring to a career in tech and what she loves about working at Huawei.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My journey with cyber security began when I began a Master’s in International Security and Risk after having studied Politics and IR as an undergraduate. I was drawn to the interdisciplinary approach between global politics, risk management and cyber security, and after starting quickly realised I wanted my future career to have a similarly dynamic remit.

In September 2020 I began working as a Cyber Security Executive at Huawei UK, a role that combined the two areas of most interest to me: politics and cyber security governance. Over the last two years, my responsibilities have expanded beyond just cyber security, but to also incorporate privacy and data protection.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

There are three things I make sure I do every morning to get into the right frame of mind for the day ahead. First, I check emails in case there’s anything I need to attend to urgently. Second, I check the news in case there are any stories I’ll need to keep track of throughout the day. And third, is my planning ritual. For me, it’s essential to start my day by scheduling my main priorities and meetings, and making a note of all the tasks, big or small, that I need to get done. Anyone who sees me in the office will know that I have my planner on me at all times – it’s like a bible to me! At the end of the day, once I’ve ticked everything off on my list, I’ll then shut my laptop, go home, and head out for a run.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I had long considered the different types of careers that interested me, but truth be told I would have never expected to end up working in tech. It took some time to decide whether to take the plunge dive into this unfamiliar sector but once I did, it was definitely worth it.

What do you love about working for Huawei UK?

Every day’s a school day when you work at Huawei. On the one hand, the sheer scale of the company means there’s so much going on, but the fact it pioneers so much research means you feel really close to the technology that is transforming the way we live. There’s always something interesting to talk about, whether it’s hearing about the newest products being developed in R&D, the most recent regional strategy, or the latest negotiations with important stakeholders.

Within Huawei, cyber security is treated with the utmost importance, so being on the team has led me to work on a huge array of projects across the business. All these experiences have given me great insights into the industry and Huawei’s place within it, which I’ve found immensely gratifying.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

Beginning my career in the midst of a global pandemic brought a set of challenges I could never have imagined.  The virtual induction process was particularly challenging, and it was harder than usual to get a real sense of the company and its inner workings. Fortunately, all of my colleagues were super supportive, understanding and willing to answer any of my questions. I strongly believe in the importance of asking questions, especially when you are just starting out in your career when you can easily feel overwhelmed. But rest assured, asking for help and guidance whenever you need to will quickly make you far more confident in your role, whatever your company or industry.

Have you benefited from coaching, mentoring or the sponsorship of others?

Immensely! I am extremely grateful to work in a team where I have received invaluable mentoring and coaching. Especially as I am just starting out in my career, learning from colleagues with decades of experience has helped me develop a far more nuanced understanding of the tech landscape than I would otherwise have had access to. I am lucky enough to have great mentors, both technical and non-technical, who I work with on a daily basis.

What advice would you give to those who aspire to a career in tech?

I’d start off by emphasising that with such a rapidly-evolving industry, there is a vast array of careers out there. Don’t get bogged down by the technical knowledge, and instead remember the bigger picture: there will definitely be a place for you to shine. In terms of success, this is always going to look different from person to person, so focus on looking for fulfillment rather than a fancy title or loads of accolades. The best thing you can do in this industry is to have an open and inquisitive mindset, which will be sure to lead you down the right tech avenue.

What does the future hold for you?

Whilst I am only just beginning my career, I hope that my future roles are as interesting and challenging as my current one. With the tech sector moving at such a rapid pace, I particularly look forward to playing a part in developing key technologies that will shape the world for future generations.


Paul Harrison, Huawei UK

HeForShe: Paul Harrison | Director of Communications, Huawei UK

Meet Paul Harrison, Director of Communications at Huawei UK

Paul Harrison, Huawei UK

Paul is Director of Communications at Huawei UK. Paul joined Huawei in 2020, after spending most of his working life in broadcast journalism at Sky News. In this piece, we talk about his career, his advice to his younger self and why he believes men should be part of the gender equality conversation.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve spent most of my working life in broadcast journalism at Sky News, so working in the tech space is relatively new for me. As Director of Communication, the biggest challenge I’ve faced in the past 3 years since joining Huawei, has been to get up to speed on the tech whilst being asked highly technical questions by super informed journalists. But as a former journalist, you can see the techniques journalists use to trip you up, coming long before they hit you.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not much planning for me. I imagined I would always be involved in the media somehow. Whether you are on the journalism side of the fence or the PR – or ‘dark side’ as it is known in the media – the media has always played a role in my career. Having a journalist as a father meant that from an early age, I was exposed to news, if only to catch sight of my Dad in a war zone or in a far flung part of the world on his latest assignment. So I fell into working in local media after university.

The rest is history.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Watching others, I learned not to sit still for too long and changed things up regularly. Part of this is due to having good mentors in the media who had my back. While remaining at one company for 22 years, I had 6 different roles during that time, spotting new opportunities every 3-4 years. The hardest moment came when changing industry from journalism to PR. Taking the plunge into a new world was scary but people told me to back myself.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I don’t look at my career in terms of my achievements, rather in the form of other people’s achievements.

I get more of a kick out of helping others exceed expectations and achieve.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

For people who are successful, they have had good networks of people around them to help them realise their full potential. Align with good people who believe in you and push you to be the best you can.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have officially been a mentor in my past as a journalist and having an experienced person to help you negotiate difficult moments in your career or simply offer a guiding hand, can be enormously powerful. I have also benefitted from a mentor. The point is those who have a degree is seniority should factor an element of mentor behaviour into their daily work life.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

Opportunity is everything.

A level playing field is vital in this regard.

So industry, business and Government must not shy away from making tough decisions to force the issue. Words are cheap, actions are invaluable.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

In an ideal world, equality in the workplace should not even be a discussion. The fact it is means it incumbent upon all of us to realise there is a problem that needs solving, and fast.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Back yourself early on. If you feel something is within your grasp, back yourself to achieve it. But in doing so, remain modest and humble. No-one likes a smart-arse.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

A good night’s sleep.