Inspirational Woman: Dr. Kiki Leutner | Business Psychologist & Data Scientist, UCL

Kiki LeutnerDr. Kiki Leutner is a business psychologist and Data Scientist at University College London (UCL).

She is Director of Assessments and Innovation at HireVue, where she develops innovative, data driven assessments that are fair and psychometrically valid. Her academic work is published in peer reviewed journals, including work on the intersection of machine learning and psychometrics. She is an expert in innovative psychometric assessment, personality theory, and behavioral analytics.

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

I currently work as Director of Assessments Innovation at HireVue and also as a lecturer in the psychology faculty at UCL. HireVue provides video interviewing and talent assessment solutions used by over 700 organisations globally to transform the way companies discover, hire and develop the best talent. My role at HireVue is to ensure that we build the fairest and most predictive pre-hire assessments possible, using the wealth of technology and science available to us. I believe that the key is bringing together business psychology and data science and machine learning.

I came to the UK for university, studying a combination of Philosophy, Psychology and Computer Science. I undertook a PhD at UCL, sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which allowed me to learn about machine learning and data science, and bring this to my Psychology research. I started focusing on developing new methods of personality profiling. For example, I used free text data to develop personality profiles, and also developed an image-based personality test.

There’s so much discussion around ethics in Computer Science. It’s important to appreciate the context of human behavioural data and the specific implications it has. There is a longstanding tradition in Psychology to carefully evaluate datasets. And specifically, in Business Psychology, to check and evaluate how algorithms affect different groups of people, and to make sure they are fair. By working at the intersection of data science and psychology, I try to bring the two together. It is also the focal point of a class I teach at UCL. I lecture both Computer Science and Psychology students, bridging the gap between methodology and specific concerns in handling human behavioural data, whilst bringing a psychology ethics perspective to both.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never planned my career, but I am always thinking about what I will do next. I am the kind of person who can never do just one thing at a time – I always have several projects on the go.

I feel as though I have been very fortunate in the opportunities that I have come across, and the mentors I’ve met along the way. I try to only pick opportunities that are truly of interest to me, and where I feel good about the people I’m working with. For example, I started working for MindX (later acquired by HireVue) when it was a young start-up because I was very impressed with the fast progress that they were making, and because my work was central to their mission and product.

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

There are challenges in every career, as well as in life in general – it’s important to find a situation in which you are comfortable, working with people who care and are passionate.

In terms of how I overcame these challenges, I strongly believe the answer lies in the people you work with. Having a good team really accelerates your output and shows the value of working with a diverse group of people – everyone brings something different to the table.

Working in technology and academia, a constant challenge will always be the lack of gender parity – you are almost always the only woman, or one of few women. This has meant throughout my career, I’ve had to ensure I’m strategic in how I navigate certain situations. I always wanted to stay true to myself and speak up if I felt something wasn’t right. I believe that being true to my values has worked in my favour.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Learning to trust my own judgement and ability! Especially as a young woman, you probably have more of a clue than people might make you feel. Most people don’t know what they’re doing either!  It’s so easy to become preoccupied by how other people may see you, so empowering myself to trust my own judgement is really important. It’s uncomfortable but it’s totally worth to keep insisting and making sure that people are aware of your background, title, or the work that you do, and to push your own agenda. Do the hard work, but don’t forget to claim your reward for it!

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

Balance! It’s key to have good friends, family and partners in your life, to create a really strong support network. You need to set up a good life for yourself, otherwise you can easily burn out.

I think that this is particularly relevant in the start-up world. You always have to give your most and there are high stakes and high emotions. Having stable relationships and supportive people help to balance this out.

Another key factor is having great mentors – for women especially. Without mentors, I wouldn’t have been able to negotiate things like salary and I probably would’ve said yes to opportunities that weren’t right for me! Knowing that you have someone to turn to when it comes to big decisions helps to build your confidence.

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

Surround yourself with good, supportive people and find mentors you trust and that inspire you. Education, whether formal or not, is so important – I never stop learning and would advise anyone trying to excel in their career to do the same. Trust your instincts with which jobs are right for you and don’t compromise.

One of my mentors always says, “do the job that you want to do – don’t wait for someone to give you permission, just do it.”

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

Of course, there are barriers – not just for women in tech, but for all women. Until women can benefit from the same support from the law, the government, the people around them, they will always be at a disadvantage. Technology is a very competitive industry, so I suppose that often results in people trying to drive out women more – it’s high stakes, both in terms of money and prestige.

I try to lead by example and show that it can be done – it’s important to individually empower women in tech, rather than only speaking about the topic as a whole. One of the best ways to overcome these barriers is to find other women in tech and talk to them! It’s really important to have open conversations – things that we experience in the industry are being experienced by many other women. Shared experiences are valuable and give credence to how you are feeling.

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

I think having structure within the company is key – formal pay structures, for example, have shown to reduce the gender pay gap. Another really important aspect is parental leave – I believe there should be parental leave for both men and women that is normalised and won’t disadvantage any particular individual.

Businesses should see increasing diversity as a great opportunity, as it truly is beneficial – it has been shown by studies time and time again that a diverse workforce makes for a more productive and profitable business. Most of all, businesses need to empower and support the minorities in their company – give them true opportunity and create and inclusive culture that values competence.

I find it really encouraging to work for a company that doesn’t just talk the talk, but also walks the walk! Over 50% of our executive team at HireVue are women, which is quite rare in the tech industry. We were also named on the 2019 Shatter List, which recognises technology companies that are actively shattering the glass ceiling for women in technology, through its programs and culture.

There is currently only 17% 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’d give companies the strength to be bold! We know what tools promote competence and diversity- it’s time to implement! Trust the evidence- this will increase profitability. Formal selection, promotion, and pay processes. Flexible working hours and mentor networks. Parental leave provisions that are equal for both genders, and support with childcare.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are loads of great women that you can follow on Twitter, as a start! A couple of my recommendations would be @cindygallop and @NathalieNahai.

Another area of focus for me is competence – this is a great article on why so many incompetent men become leaders: https://hbr.org/2013/08/why-do-so-many-incompetent-men

Events are an important and easy way to meet likeminded individuals and discuss shared experiences – some of the best are run by Future Females.

Education is important to me – and that doesn’t just mean textbooks! It’s key to educate yourself on the history and actuality of feminism and equality. My starting suggestions would be:

Lastly, it’s important to keep a sense of humour… Laugh about it at @manwhohasitall.