The abysmal number of women in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science and analytics is a worrying trend for organisations all over the world. The resultant sexism is increasingly becoming one of the side-effects, making the global protests for gender equality so much more necessary.
Why is it so? And what can be done to change it?
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Analytics India Magazine is featuring women leaders in these sector for all of March celebrating Women’s Day.
Vidhya Duthaluru, vice president, Data Sciences Group, 7.ai
What does the career in analytics/data science/AI look like for a woman?
A career in analytics, data sciences and AI is very exciting for everyone be it a woman or a man. AI and deep learning have really taken off given the explosion of data that we have had over the last several years. This is an exciting and competitive field and one has to have curiosity and a constant love for learning. The field is evolving daily with researchers from premier institutions and technology companies working on complex problems and devising new ways to solve them. One has to read, research and keep up with the advances to stay current. So with a lot to learn and exciting new findings from different data sources, and constant evolution, this is one of the most exciting fields to be in. I would certainly encourage many, many more women to pursue this.
Why did you choose this field as a career option?
I did my Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Rutgers University. My specialization was in the area of speech science. I continued working in that area after my PhD, on deploying speech recognition and then optimizing the performance. We did analysis of the data and lots of experimentation to improve performance with the data we had. This was well before we actually had data at scale, but the principles of analysis were still the same. This area of making sense of the data we have, and building machine learning models to recognize patterns has always been fascinating to me especially, in the area as critical and complex as customer interactions. It’s immensely satisfying to see the impact of this work in real life – improving customer experience for millions of customers.
How has your growth story been so far?
I have had a very successful journey of professional growth. Starting out as a Speech Scientist doing research and deployments of speech recognition and voice biometrics to then transforming to dealing with larger volumes of data coming from multiple sources, it’s been a fascinating journey. There is so much to learn every day from all the people I work with. Today, I manage a team of scientists and analytics professionals at 7.ai as well as look at deriving insights from the data from customer interactions and building automation in processes and conversations from it. I think the key is to keep learning, and continue to be curious about ways to tackle problems at scale. It also helps to find a cause that you can align with – our company vision ‘we make it easier for consumers to connect with companies to get things done’ is a constant motivator to use cutting-edge technology to solve complex customer service problems.
Do you struggle to maintain a work-life balance?
Maintaining work life balance is certainly a struggle for working professionals, and more so for women because we want to give our 100% at work and 100% at home with our families. It’s always a juggling act and I tend to take it one day at a time. It helps greatly that I have a very supportive husband who is there every step of the way. Another important aspect is to choose the right organization – the one that values your contributions and gives you enough flexibility so you manage both fronts well. The thing to understand is that it will never be perfect, and there will always be compromises, but if we treat this as a way of life and make the right decisions for us on a daily basis, it will work for the most part. There will be misses but we shouldn’t come down too hard on ourselves for that. It also helps to be more organized and more planned to ensure that both work and family are given the attention they need.
Your thoughts on incorporating more women in new tech sectors.
Over the last decade, we have witnessed a steady increase in the number of women pursuing courses and careers in technology, however we have still a long way to go. The tech world buzzing with new technologies such as big data, blockchain, AI, quantum computing etc. Thus the overall mood is quite upbeat and these new technologies have created many new kinds of roles. The start-up proliferation has also created a lot of demand for technical skills. We need to have a talent pool of women ready who can take on these roles. And that preparation has to start early on – when these women are in their formative years at schools/colleges and are forming their opinions about what they would like to do in their lives. We need to ride this wave and get more girls excited about technology roles as their preferred career choice. Enterprises too have to be committed to increase women presence in their workforce. Organizations need to ensure that they create a welcoming and equitable work environment where women thrive as much as their male counterparts.
What are the key changes in education/career choices that could change the current scenario?
We need to give girls a chance to explore coding at an early age – coding camps in schools and community-run programs where professionals volunteer to teach basics of coding would be a good way to implement this. As parents and teachers, we should instil interest in STEM education early on. Let these girls tinker with technology, dream about science and develop a fascination for a lot of new innovations that we are being exposed to. We need to talk to girls about other successful women in technology and if possible get them to meet a few technology professionals to get a rich perspective on career, various trending technologies and how they should prepare themselves. As women working in technology, each of us has a responsibility to educate and inspire more young girls and women to study these fields. Most of all, we need to reinforce that they can be anything they want to be and they are as talented as anybody else trying to make their mark in the world of technology.