Queens of Tech: Leading the charge for diversity, inclusion, representation in tech
A series of interviews with some of the most successful women in the tech industry.
With International Women’s Day on March 8, Defined.ai is celebrating women in the tech world who are carving their own paths to success. These Queens of Tech have come out on top through their hard work, building and tapping into a community, and simply ignoring the word “no.” Through their example, they’re women leading the push for equality, inclusivity, and representation in technology, in an industry where women have historically been underrepresented, and frankly, seriously underestimated.
In this series of interviews, we speak with each of them to learn more about their background, their influences, and their journey in tech.
See our interviews with these Queens of Tech below: Meenoo Rami, Julie Belião, Erin Papworth, Rosana de Oliveira Gomes and Alisha Arora.
Meenoo Rami, Principal Product Manager, Xbox at Microsoft
With an impressive career spanning English teaching, to working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to now working at Microsoft, Meenoo Rami graciously notes that her successes are due not only to her hard work but also to those in the community who have opened doors for her along the way. As a result, she also looks for opportunities to pay it forward, which has led her to both create and actively participate in online communities that support learning and growth.
“I think communities can be places where people find others who are like them, who have faced the same challenges, and share ideas of how to overcome those challenges. These groups can be advocates for a less biased and more inclusive world, especially in tech.
“When people are seen, heard, and understood, when they can bring their full selves to work, that’s when they can do their best work. There are more ways to feel divided now than ever, but by seeking out these communities and ways to communicate with each other, we can reduce that sense of isolation.”
Meenoo is proof positive that no matter our differences in background or experience, humanity’s greatest strength is in its ability to build community and support one another. We’re therefore obligated to build communities to be there for each other, ensuring that we emerge from trying times together and stronger than before.
Watch the full interview for more of her unique experiences here:
Julie Belião, Senior Director of Product Management, Defined.ai
Julie has a diverse background, with 12 years of experience as a linguist, natural language processing (NLP) researcher, and product manager. Having done extensive research in NLP, and localization work at Google, she is acutely aware of how bias is easily passed on from humans to machines.
AI systems are only as good as the data that is used to train them, and Julie is working hard to ensure that the data from Defined.ai is up to the high-quality standards that are needed to ensure representativeness in NLP and by extension, AI. She is also adamant that for women to succeed in tech, men need to change their mindset as well.
“We (women) can support each other, give a push to junior team members, and challenge each other. However, when an area is dominated by a certain identity, in this case men, we also have to rely on men to get us where we are. We should not put all the burden on women, it’s not all on the underrepresented community to do all the heavy lifting to get to where we should be.
“This has to change in the mindset in our colleagues, who are more represented, through communication and education of the different groups. Support groups for different communities, create an inclusive environment that allows women to be more vocal and to be heard. But, this has to be enabled by the people on top, and if those people on the top are males, then it has to come from them.”
Follow the link to see the full interview with Julie here:
Erin Papworth, CEO of Nav.it
Erin founded Nav.it as a mission-driven company, based on the philosophy that financial health is an integral part of overall, holistic health, and should be viewed as such. As a female entrepreneur, she has faced her share of roadblocks, but she believes deeply in both being confident of what she has to offer the fintech world and building strong teams around her to bring new perspective and innovation to the industry. She is also very aware of how her status as CEO and co-founder is pushing women forward.
“It’s hard to articulate the nuances that occur as a female in tech, but the reality is that there is no precedent for people like us to be tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, or CEOs on Wall Street. When you go into settings that are predominately male-dominated or historically had one pattern of a certain person coming in and being successful, you are pushing the envelope because you are having to create a new narrative.
“You are showing that a mother, a woman, someone without a tech background can run a company, and have good idea, can fundraise – there are a lot of firsts that you are having to build. You are held to a different standard and always swimming upstream.
“However, we have to expect that these people are capable and going to succeed, and if you give them a chance, the assumption should be that these people are confident and capable of success.”
Catch Erin’s full interview with additional insights of note here.
Rosana de Oliveira Gomes, PhD, Senior Data Scientist at HAKOM Time Series Technologies and Product Owner at Omdena
It’s rare to find work in a field we love, and rarer still that we can leverage that work in a way that really matters. Our latest Queen of Tech, Rosana de Oliveira Gomes, PhD, is one of the few people to will that kind of impactful career into her daily reality, working as a senior data scientist at HAKOM Time Series Technologies, and a product owner at Omdena, while on the weekends devoting her time and technical skills to causes that matter to her and a hackathon team comprised of fellow technical women.
“I studied in Brazil, and during my PhD, when I was in Germany [in 2014], we started to talk a lot about the Climate Crisis and the Paris [Climate Accord]. I became interested in this field of social impact and how people with technical skills could help,” says Dr. Gomes, who at the time was well into an astrophysics education. “I started to look into data science careers and there was all of this movement about ‘Data Science for Social Good’ or ‘AI for Good.’ This is basically how I started to learn the skills that I would need, and how the skills I already had… [could be applied to] problems the world needed to be solved.”
It was during that heady time of professional development and seeking causes to contribute to that Dr. Gomes also embedded herself in a wider network of women in technical fields. Serendipitously, what resulted was a highly technical group of friends that eventually became the AI Wonder Girls, a hackathon team and professional support group for women in data science and machine learning.
Eight hackathons later – five of which, they’d won – the AI Wonder Girls are a force to be reckoned with. However, they’re also an important support group for each other, serving as a place for its growing membership to share technical skills picked up inside and out of hackathons and to provide mutual career and moral support.
“After some point, when I transitioned [to data science], people [reached] out and I started to give advice,” recalls Dr. Gomes. “When someone [is] interviewing and they’re nervous, or they’re trying to negotiate a salary, in the beginning, I really tried to give advice. But the [AI Wonder Girls] support each other so well, I don’t need to do this anymore because there’s always someone doing it naturally.
“We created this mindset of supporting each other, lifting each other up. It’s really nice to see this kind of community spirit.”
Despite the successes of the AI Wonder Girls in supporting one another and fighting for better representation in the tech industry – and even in the tech volunteer space, where there are more women than in industry, but still lagging in representation – Dr. Gomes stresses that there’s still more work to be done. As a tech mentor, one critical observation and piece of advice she often gives to her peers looking to make the transition into tech is to acknowledge their worth and how important it will be in their new careers, even if they don’t realize it yet.
Listen to the interview to hear this and other advice from Dr. Gomes:
Upcoming interviews: Watch this space!
Alisha Arora, 15 years old AI changemaker | March 29, 2022 | 2pm PST
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the next interviews, and watch the live streams on LinkedIn.
Happy International Women’s Day! 💐
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