Keeley Crockett featured

Inspirational Woman: Keeley Crockett | IEEE Member & Professor in Computational Intelligence, Manchester Metropolitan University

Keeley CrockettI am a professor in computational intelligence at the School of Computing and Mathematics Manchester Metropolitan University.

In addition to this, I lead the machine intelligence theme in the centre for advanced computational science. I am currently chair of the IEEE Task Force on Ethical and Social Implications of Computational Intelligence and the academic co-lead for the Greater Manchester AI Foundry.

I’m passionate about practical based artificial intelligence ethics. One recent project I have been working on is with small businesses and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which has been in evaluating The Turing and the Information Commissioners Office guidance on explaining AI decisions guidance.

I teach on undergraduate, masters and degree apprenticeship programmes topics such as data management, machine learning, databases, data and AI governance and AI ethics. I am also a STEM ambassador and love engagement activities and school outreach at national and international level. I hope to inspire young people and get them excited about STEM.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No! I followed what I enjoyed doing. At school I got my first taste of coding using BBC Basic and robotics. I also realised quite early on that I enjoyed helping others, but I never dreamed I would end up as a teacher or lecturer. I have often taken opportunities that have come by, even if it puts me completely out of my comfort zone. Once in academia, I found that I fell in love the variety of the job, supporting and helping students and conducting exciting research.

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

Rejection is always hard. As a PHD student, my first conference paper rejection was tough, and I cried for a good few days – not getting a promotion and not really understanding why is also difficult.

To overcome these challenges, I took feedback on board and asked for advice from not only my mentor, but other people I trusted in academia, which really helped. When I was ready, I tried again. This is one of the main reasons why building a network is so important.”

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

As a sufferer of imposter syndrome, I never expected to be awarded a chair in computational intelligence last year. I had applied for this a few years previously but was unsuccessful. I sought feedback and tried to work on my weak points. Being a professor is a privileged position, but fundamentally I’m still the same person as I was before and always will be.

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

If you don’t succeed, try, try again’ is my motto. I have never been a straight A student, and it always seems to take slightly longer for me to find a bug in a piece of code. Despite this, I have never given up and will always ask for help if needed. Sometimes the road to success is not straight, but all those small adventures and setbacks build character and determination.

The second and equally important factor is having a good mentor. Having an informal mentor has been a great inspiration to me, especially when faced with career choices and challenges. Finally, respecting all people and their opinions. In my current work on building trustworthy ethical artificial intelligence products, solutions, and services, I need to listen and communicate with all stakeholders, including the public!

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

Put yourself forward to lead projects that are out of your comfort zone. You will face new challenges, but you will be able to apply existing your knowledge and expertise in a new way. I always believe you learn more by doing!

Join a professional body such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer (IEEE) and get involved with the varying initiatives available. These are a great to attend conferences and build a network. In addition to this, you should continue to learn and develop skills in relation to existing trends and learn a new skill through one of the many online courses available.

As mentioned previously, having a mentor is extremely helpful when finding your career in technology. This does not have to be in your own organisation and can be through schemes through your professional body. Lastly, going on some unconscious bias training and promoting yourself through your LinkedIn profile provides an excellent opportunity to meet contacts.

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

There is still a lack of women role models in technology, and consequently, a lack of mentors. Role models need to be visible to inspire others, and unfortunately, it appears that women are less likely to shout about their achievements. There is also the issue of affinity bias, where managers are more likely to employ, promote and socialise with someone more similar to them. Organisations need to create inclusive and engaging workplaces and a culture where diversity in teams is the norm.

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

Companies need to ensure they have good diversity and inclusion polices and practically implement them wherever possible. The benefits of diverse product development teams, especially in AI, is now established, but is it is not always put into practice. A caveat is when you simply do not have enough diversity in the first place. For example, women may be asked to be on interview panels, considerably more than a male, which can lead to a heavier workload.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, 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 like to empower all women and encourage them not to have imposter syndrome. Women should be confident in their abilities and be a voice in the strategic direction of a business that can lead to a diverse and inclusive team. They should also feel confident in designing codes, testing software solutions, and building machine learning models, as they are completely equal to male counterparts when it comes to all of this.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) is an international professional organisation which hosts a number of events to promote and support women of all ages from schoolgirls to those in senior career positions in developing their careers in tech and all STEM subjects. One of the annual highlights is the WIE International Leadership Conference.

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

The importance of women in STEM post-pandemic

Happy African American building contractor and construction worker greeting with elbows during coronavirus epidemic, women in STEM, women in engineering

Although working from home has been a positive experience in the sense of boosting productivity and enhancing work life balance, several studies have shown that female employees have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

For example, many female parents have been left feeling completely exhausted, having to juggle work with caring responsibilities such as homeschooling. According to a study from the Office for National Statistics, more women reported that home schooling was having a negative impact on their wellbeing, with 53 percent struggling compared to 45 per cent of men.

Women in STEM are excelling

Despite this, many women across the country have excelled throughout the year. The pandemic has been such a turbulent time for many, yet we have seen an impressive amount of innovation, especially within the science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing industries. Professor Sarah Gilbert, for example, will go down in history as a co-inventor of one of the Covid vaccines, saving thousands of lives to-date. Megs Shah and Fairuz Ahmed have also done amazing work by creating an app to tackle the rise in gender-based violence during the pandemic. In addition, Anja Stolte is an engineering innovator who has combined the best of 3D printing to create metal parts using additive casting, helping businesses throughout the UK reduce their carbon footprint.

A positive impact

Throughout many industries, including the engineering sector, the pandemic has resulted in richer academic research through collaboration on digital platforms. The ability to work from home coupled with flexible working has given women in the industry an opportunity to see what is possible. It has resulted in greater diversity within the workforce which can lead to more creativity in engineering product solutions for all of society. Agile working has meant more inclusivity for single parents, disabled people and women taking care of older relatives. It has also allowed meetings to be more inclusive as a more diverse group of people can now attend a meeting virtually.

As we gradually ease out of the pandemic, it is great to see women using this time as a chance to innovate. It is important to note that every person is different, depending on their work and home life, and this pandemic has affected everyone in different ways. Prior to the pandemic, many women have felt as though they had to make a choice between a family or career. However, this time has hopefully given women the chance to showcase their ability, talent, and leadership skills.

Keeley Crockett headshotAbout the author

Keeley Crockett is an IEEE senior member and a Professor in Computational Intelligence in the School of Computing, Mathematics and Digital Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. She is a knowledge engineer and has worked with companies to provide business rule automation with natural language interfaces using conversational agents. She leads the Computational Intelligence Lab that has established a strong international presence in its research into Conversational Agents and Adaptive Psychological Profiling and practical Ethical AI. As an ambassador for women in STEM, Keeley regularly advocates for equality and inclusion on both a regional and national basis.

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Mechanical Engineering featuredBreaking Down The Barriers: Why More Women Should Consider Engineering

Sorria Douglas knew she wanted to go into a technology or science-related job - she just wasn't sure what exactly until she took an online questionnaire which highlighted mechanical engineering as a possible career choice.

Sorria, now 26, didn't even know what mechanical engineering was at the time, but she thought it sounded interesting.

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