Episode 11 – Optimizing the Power of AI for Gender Equity

FortressIQ | Intelligent Insights for the Modern Enterprise
Episode 11 - Optimizing the Power of AI for Gender Equity

From Fortune 500 stalwarts to Silicon Valley startups, gender equity has been a challenge for generations. But today despite universal agreement that a fix is overdue, not much has been done to actually move the needle. Because the workplace was not designed to value women, we need to change the ways we make decisions and evaluate talent to truly address the problem, and technology can be an accelerator. Using AI and natural language processing, software can identify bias in performance evaluations and point organizations toward making better decisions about promotions and new opportunities for employees. It’s more than just an issue of fairness for companies to act. For every 10% increase in gender equity toward parity, there is a 1% to 2% increase in revenue.

In this episode in our series about women in AI, Katica Roy of Pipeline Equity discusses the topic of gender equity and the necessary changes that need to occur in our mindsets as well as business practices. She discusses specific issues of inequality (including the Motherhood Penalty), by sharing her professional experiences and by comparing statistics from the past few years.

Katica talks about how her experience as a single mother, a first-generation American, and her various professional interactions have molded her vision of equality within the workplace. Our discussion also touches on Pipeline Equity, the 2020 Retrospective Report, and the trends that Katica has seen in the labor force participation rate of women. Women throughout history have seen sexism in the workforce, whether it has to do with opportunities, differences in pay, or in direct treatment. Katica and Pipeline Equity work hard to make sure that these current trends and statistics are coming to light because having the conversation is the first step to fixing the problem.

Talking Points:

  • Katica’s experience with sexism in the workplace
  • How Katica’s background shaped how she views equality and her values
  • Why Katica founded Pipeline Equity
  • Analyzing the 2020 retrospective report about gender equity
  • The setbacks from the pandemic and the economic consequences due to those setbacks
  • Men’s mental health in 2020
  • The importance of destigmatizing mental health
  • Katica’s advice on where to start advocating and learning about gender equity
  • How to get involved
  • How Katica balances being involved and running a company
  • What is The Motherhood Penalty?

Pipeline Equity
Katica Roy official website
The 2021 Gender Retrospective
Katica Roy LinkedIn

If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe and check out our series at fortressiq.com/podcast. Thanks for joining us today on hello, Human.

Full Episode Transcript:

Hi and welcome to hello, Human. A podcast to explore ideas and feature humans working in AI and Technology.

Christelle: Thanks, everybody. Today on hello, Human, we’re joined by Katica Roy who is going to chat with myself and Elizabeth Mitelman from FortressIQ and just talk about women in AI. You need to prepare yourself and how you get there. 

Katica, thank you for joining us. Really appreciate it.

Katica: Thanks for having me.

Christelle: Great. My first question—and then I’ll hand it over to Elizabeth—is before you started Pipeline, you had previously worked for some well-recognized companies from technology to health care to financial services leading learning and development. How has that prepared you for starting your organization?

Katica: My experience is actually more broad than just learning and development. The thing that is probably interesting relative to Pipeline is that I’m actually a breadwinner mom who fought to be paid equitably twice and won. 

The first instance of that, I was on maternity leave with my daughter. My boss was optimized, which is a fancy word for fired. When I came back from maternity leave, two days after I came back, I was asked to take on a new team. Two weeks later, I was asked to take on another new team, which meant that I had three teams that I was managing. My male colleague was asked to take on one additional team. He also received additional compensation for the new team and I didn’t receive anything. 

It’s a great opportunity, breadwinner mom for a family of four. Called HR, my new boss, and said, hey, this is great, very excited about it, but how do you want to make me whole in my compensation? Nothing was really done, so it was a couple of months back and forth. I thought, there’s got to be something that makes this legal. 

I did my research and I found the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which changes the statute of limitations for equal pay. It was actually the first piece of legislation that President Obama signed into law. I called HR and said, this is a Lilly Ledbetter issue. Every time you pay me, the statute of limitation starts over. What do you want to do about it? 

Now, to their credit, they increased my level, increased my pay, and gave me back pay. Certainly, it was a story of success. But the question that it led me to was why did I have to spend my time researching my rights in order to be treated fairly? It was really in that moment that the journey to ultimately founding Pipeline began. 

As a breadwinner mom, there was an additional layer for me of why were my children worthless to society simply because their mom was the breadwinner? We’ve gone on, researched around breadwinner moms at Pipeline, and found that they have the largest gender pay gap of any women in any cohort of women in the U.S. labor force, which is $0.66 on the $1. 

I also inherited two teams so I inherited all the inequities that existed in those two teams. I committed that if you were going to report to me, I would ensure that you had equity of opportunity and equity of pay, that I would do everything in my power to ensure that what I experienced, you did not have to experience. 

When I started Pipeline, what that gave me the ability to do was to take both my lived experience and also the commitment to the people who had reported to me and to do that at scale. We influence hundreds of thousands of people-decisions each year. There are people who have gotten pay raises because of the Pipeline platform and haven’t had to advocate for them. I’ve never met them. I have taken my experience and have been able to use that to positively impact other people’s lives.

Christelle: That’s amazing. Taking something that you’ve personally gone through and turning that into never having to fight that fight again, or never having to be in that uncomfortable situation because it’s just an uncomfortable situation. I think as women, we tend to not want to be in those situations. It’s hard for us.

Katica: I’m going to add a little to that because it’s not only about women. It is that women inherently understand the risk of speaking up. We have experienced this long before we ever got to the workplace. We experienced it in childhood, in school. 

Those two months of me trying to negotiate this was that risk of, how assertive do I need to be and what is the economic downside of being assertive? That is, will I experience retaliation? What impact will that have on not only my economic security but the economic security of my family? We see that vetted out in the numbers—that retaliation claims have doubled in the last 20 years. It’s not necessarily that women don’t want to be uncomfortable. It’s that they understand the downside of speaking up.

Christelle: Yeah. I totally get that.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much, Katica, for joining us today. You launched Pipeline Equity back in 2017 and have now created an award-winning business and empire. Would you be able to share a bit more about the story behind Pipeline and the organization’s greater mission?

Katica: Thank you for calling it an empire. I certainly appreciate that. I talked a little bit about my experience. I’ll talk a little bit more about Pipeline and our larger mission. I talked about my experience, which certainly had a direct impact on Pipeline. I also have a family history that has an impact on Pipeline, and then I’ll talk a little bit more about what Pipeline does. 

I am a first-generation American. I am a daughter of an immigrant and a refugee. I’ll talk a little bit about my dad’s story. The impact that one person in a position of power had on the trajectory of my family and my life was the big catalyst for also why I chose to start Pipeline. 

My father was a Hungarian refugee, escaped with my three older siblings from Hungary after the fall of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. They walked across the minefield, arrived at a refugee camp in Austria. Less than 2 months into their stay at the refugee camp, President Eisenhower sent Air Force One to bring 21 Hungarian refugees to the U.S. on Christmas day 1956. They were on that plane. 

What I was raised with and has always been part of my ethos is this idea that I sit here with you today on this podcast because one person in a position of power said, not on my watch. That I will do what I can to make sure this doesn’t happen. Because of that, I was really aware growing up of the opportunity that I had and the obligation that I had. When this happened, this was one other way to really take what had been given to me and to give back. 

That’s some of the personal family stories behind what influenced me to start Pipeline. Pipeline itself and why I founded Pipeline—I’ll talk a little bit about my broader background. I am a former programmer, fluent in four languages. I had a background in data science, in UI/UX development. Worked most of my career either in sales or reporting up to really senior folks in organizations. 

What I understood from my experiences were two things. One was that if you wanted to move an issue in an organization, you had to tie it to the financials. That if you didn’t tie an issue to the financials, it became optional. The reason is that the number one responsibility of a CEO is to maximize shareholder value. You’ve got to tie it to that. That’s one. 

The second is that I understood that we could advance technology such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence to actually accelerate our time toward equity. In creating Pipeline, I married those two things together. 

One was that we actually started with a research study across 4000 companies in 29 countries. We’ve found that for every 10% increase in intersectional gender equity—so gender plus race, ethnicity, and age—there’s a 1%–2% increase in revenue. This is not only about the right thing to do. It’s actually a massive economic opportunity that CEOs and companies who are not focusing on actively increasing equity in their companies are actually constricting their economic pie, their economic footprint. That’s one.

The second piece of that was that I worked with a lot of enterprise companies, companies that had 80,000 employees or 170,000 employees who were dispersed across the globe. I understood that if you wanted to do anything at scale in large companies, technology had to be part of that.

What Pipeline does using artificial intelligence is it essentially ensures that every company is equitable because what is baked into every people decision is equity. You either have the choice to move toward equity or not. What we ensure is that each of those decisions is actually equitable for companies and also tied to greater financial performance.

Christelle: Got it. That makes a ton of sense. I know, being the head of marketing, any time I want to go do something, if I tie it to a business decision around the CFO if I can get the CFO to understand the return on investment, why it’s important, it seems like all of those barriers and those barricades seem to fall. I love that. That data-driven ‘how does this help the business overall’ is so important. It makes a ton of sense. 

Question for you on your website and the recent 2021 Retrospective that you published, the story of gender equity from the past decides 10 future trends. Can you just give us a little bit of an overview of what that is? Maybe pick one of those trends that you think might be the most critical. 

Katica: Sure. I authored the report. I actually published the initial one at the end of 2019 beginning of 2020, which was to look at the last decade of progress toward gender equity—what were the trends, what was possible in the next decade, and what we would need to do to actually reach that. Then 2020 hit, which was the first year in the new decade. 

All those cracks—particularly on intersectional gender equity—were sitting right under the surface and they all came up. The 2021 Gender Retrospective then provides essentially a 2020 update to what happened in a given year. They’re mostly not good things. A couple of good things.

The two good things that happened that we saw in 2020 relative to the 10 trends that I identified—one was that the E.R.A. was ratified by its 38th and final state. The second was that LGBTQ folks got federal protection under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those were really, really important things that we have certainly advocated for. 

Unfortunately, we also saw some pretty significant setbacks. On a global scale at the dawn of this new decade, we were 12 years away from reaching gender parity in education for girls. That is really important, not only for issues of fairness, but it’s actually a metric that the military and intelligence organizations use to measure stability. If a country is headed for conflict, one of the leading indicators that we used is girls’ education. If there’s a lack of girls’ education, that is an indicator of instability in that country. 

Unfortunately, in addition to school closures, what we’re seeing now is that it’s likely that 15% more girls from that original number coming into the new decade will remain out of school. That’s not good both for global stability, but also for the growth of the global economy. 

We saw—in the United States in particular—huge fallbacks in both labor force participation of women and the gender pay gap. If you want to look at gender within the economy, one of the ways to look at that is through the lens of labor economics. That really has to be key factors which are education attainment, labor force participation, and wages. 

We talked a little bit about education on a global scale, but the 2 things that we saw within 12 months is that the labor force participation rate of women was set back 32 years in 1 year. That is not only an issue of fairness. It is a massive economic issue because prior to the pandemic, if we had continued to increase women’s labor force participation which is what was happening right before the pandemic hit, there was another $789 billion on the table for us. 

Since 1970, women have actually added $2 trillion to the U.S. economy through their increased labor force participation. We were set back so far that we’ve lost over $1 trillion out of our economy just due to women leaving the workforce. That’s one.

The second is the gender pay gap. We’ll just talk about it in the money coming into women’s wallets. From a wages perspective, it’s also the money coming out of women’s wallets. Just the money coming into women’s wallets was set back 22 years. We are already at $0.82 on the $1. The prediction is now at about $0.76 on the $1. We’ve got a widening gap at a time when women in their families can least afford it. 

Why this matter is not only an issue of fairness. If you just look at it through the lens of U.S. households that had children under the age of 18, women are the breadwinners in 40% of U.S. households. There are 16 million breadwinner moms, 28 million kids. That is an issue. By the way, we did research looking at the gender pay gap for breadwinner moms and it’s $0.66 on the $1. as I mentioned, it’s the largest gender pay gap of any cohort of women.

That is an issue for millions of families, and then you couple that with another 31% of families with children under the age of 18 that rely on mom’s earnings for their economic well-being. Now, you’ve got huge gaps and none of the $2 trillion of economic stimulus that went out—for instance, the direct payments that families got—no one applied the gender lens. If you have less money, it should make up for that gap in the money we’re giving you because you probably have less savings.

Christelle: You have more to make up for.

Katica: You have more to make up for. We just said, well, we’re going to do it by adult and child. For instance, if you’ve got a single mom with two kids and a dual-parent household with two kids, their expenses are not all that different. We actually didn’t account for that difference either. 

I’ll tell you one last thing just because it’s an important piece in understanding that gender equity is not a synonym for women’s rights. That is women are 50% of the conversation, men are the other 50%. 

One of the other real concerning things that we saw in 2020 is mental health is largely a men’s issue. I don’t mean that women don’t have mental health issues. I mean that men, because of how we have structured their role in society, are less likely to get help with mental health. We see that. Sixty percent of men actually reported that their mental health was negatively impacted by last year. That should also really concern us because we need to make investments in essentially destigmatizing mental health and ensuring that everyone has access to mental health.

Christelle: Yeah. I totally agree. And into your earlier points, I’m one of those single moms. I have a 17-year-old just about to turn 17. Those numbers are just astounding. When you’re in it, you don’t realize the magnitude of all those other people that are just like me that have this massive impact on the economy and in their own personal lives. That’s astounding. I didn’t know it was that high.

Katica: We also put it on women. We also say, oh, well. No, the numbers don’t actually support that. It’s not that women are less responsible with money. We’re actually better with money. That’s what the research shows. It’s that we have less money coming into our wallets and we have more money coming out.

Christelle: Right. That makes total sense. Again, back to a math equation. Back to the numbers and […] it.

Katica: It’s not magic, it’s math. It’s just math.

Christelle: That’s so funny. Elizabeth, did you have a question?

Elizabeth: Yes. I think it’s so important that you talk about education and looking at the math, the numbers. I think that education is critical. That’s where we begin to learn about these issues and understand the terminology of what’s going on in the world. For those that are ready to advocate and learn, where do you recommend that they start?

Katica: To advocate and learn about gender equity?

Elizabeth: Yes.

Katica: We’ve launched three reports. There’s one, The Equity For All Report which is a Pipeline report. If you go to pipelineequity.com, you can download it there. I’ve also launched a couple of reports. One, the 2021 Gender Retrospective. Then in gearing up for the 2020 election, I launched the Voting Guide, which took 15 campaign issues and applied the gender lens. 

Those are great. They’re free. You just need your name and your email address and you can download them. That’s where I would start. You can get my reports on katicaroy.com. They’re right on the front page.

Elizabeth: We’ll link that in the notes as an available resource for our listeners.

Katica: Thank you.

Christelle: That’s great. Besides doing all this great work with Pipeline, you’re also a council member for Fast Company Impact. As I look at how to get more involved, how to have a voice, what’s your advice on how to get involved with that kind of thing? How do you balance it? How do you balance running a company and then also giving back and being part of these councils that are trying to change the way that the world works right now?

Katica: I don’t believe in balance. I just don’t believe it. I’ll answer your question about how I do the things I do. I do want to address the balance issue because it’s often an issue we place on women. We don’t often ask men about work-life balance. We only typically ask women. There’s this assumption that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, what it means to be a good mom or all of those different frames of reference. 

For me, I love to work. I enjoy my work. For my children, what they’re able to see is what’s possible for them if they work hard. I think that that matters. I’ll just give you one really quick example and then I’ll talk about the Fast Company Impact Council because that’s one of the important things that I’m involved in.

Last year—you can actually see it up here—I was named the 2020 Colorado Entrepreneur of the Year, not the Female Entrepreneur of the Year, the Colorado Entrepreneur of the Year. I was on the cover. One of the photos that they used in the layout in the actual magazine was a photo of myself and Secretary Hillary Clinton. I had met her doing some work. 

One of the things that was very cool—because they send you a huge box of magazines, I’ve got a bunch of them—my daughter who’s nine would take that magazine with her on playdates, obviously, pre-COVID. We had a controlled group. She would like to say, oh, look at my mom with Secretary Clinton. Her friends would say, I want to meet Secretary Clinton. 

For her, it was this idea of what was possible for her. She could see her mom doing that and therefore, she could see herself doing that. That’s why constricting ourselves to what it looks like to be a good mom or balance sets us up for failure because it puts on us what society believes looks like a good mom. I don’t think my kids think I’m a bad mom because I don’t make their lunches. That’s not their archetype of what a good mom is.

Christelle: Yeah, and I think it’s all relative. I love that. One of my mantras with my daughter is see her, be her. This concept of if you can see it—if you can see other women doing this—you can do it too is so important. 

My daughter is almost 17 and I’ve had that mom-guilt for years, traveling and trying to climb the corporate ladder. At the end of the day, I think our relationship is so special because she has this amount of respect for what I do. Now, she’s choosing her career path and looking at colleges, that’s super important to her. 

She’s like, I can do whatever I want to do. I could go be a dermatologist. I could go be whatever it is. There’s no filter for her right now. That’s what I hope that this next generation of children is able to see. There’s less and less of that filter.

Katica: That’s right. My kids don’t even have that. For them, it’s like, oh, being a good mom is having agency over your economic well-being. That’s a good thing, right? 

I’m Involved in the Fast Company Impact Council. It’s a great group of folks. I have been a Fast Company contributor for a couple of years now. It was a way to continue. It’s not only giving back, it’s also about talking about what’s important, narratives, intersectional gender equity, and how we tie that to economic impact. 

For instance, part of what the Impact Council influenced was this content thread for Fast Company around the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency—what was important and what did we want to see. I suppose you could say it’s giving back, but it’s about continuing to use your voice and service of other people and to bring what I know to bear in a larger conversation. It’s a great opportunity and obviously, I’m a big fan of Fast Company.

Elizabeth: That’s amazing. Taking a look at the future of your own success, your own career, and of course Pipeline, do you see any other ways for Pipeline to use AI or technology to further its mission?

Katica: That’s a great question. I do. I was debating how much we would actually release at this point, but I do. I think that given what Pipeline has developed—the ability to ensure that every people’s decision is equitable—there are additional ways that we can use our technology or broaden who we’re serving to ensure equity across every people decision and really have a core part in growing the economy.

Elizabeth: That’s fantastic.

Christelle: That’s great. I hope there are more companies like that and more ways that we take some of these social issues, not just issues in the workplace, selling more software, or selling more bits. How do you actually level the playing field and use technology to do that is really interesting.

Katica: What’s interesting about that is that for us, obviously, making a lot of money is really important. No question about that. We’re a venture-backed firm. No question. 

For us, it is a means to an end. It is not an end in and of itself. For us, if we make more money, it means that tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people have actually also made more money because of our platform. They have experienced a more equitable world. That then ties to growing the economy which is good for everyone. For us, the money piece is not an end. It is a means to a much bigger end. 

Christelle: That makes a ton of sense. My last question for you is based on a post that you recently did on LinkedIn around three lessons for emerging female leaders. It’s a short piece, but it’s very powerful. You’ve synthesized it down to three things that are really important and that are easy to remember to keep in front of you at all times. Can you just talk a little bit about what those three things are and why you think they’re important?

Katica: They are lessons that I learned. I am not huge on giving advice because I feel like it’s me telling you what to do rather than me sharing my own experience. I prefer to share my own experience because it feels like I’m walking alongside you rather than walking in front of you. We give a lot of advice to women, so that’s also a thing that I try not to do.

The three lessons that I have learned along with my career. The first one is about ‘jump and the ledge will appear.’ This idea we often talk about that women are less confident than men is actually not true. We are just as confident as men. What we need is not to listen to that, to be brave, jump and the ledge will appear, and to really believe that we will succeed. It doesn’t mean that it’ll be easier, but that we will succeed.

A huge part of my career growth and trajectory was the willingness to learn enough about something to make sure I’d be set up for success but actually believe in my ability to make it successful. That I would make it successful no matter what. That was the jump and the ledge will appear.

The second is to center yourself in your own power to really know that your voice matters despite what’s happening around you. I’m the youngest of six kids so I had to learn that quite frankly just to survive in my family. 

Also, when you center yourself in your own power, you have the ability to speak up against things that may be inequitable from a place of power, from a place of the fact that you’re not a damsel in distress. That you matter, your voice matters, and you deserve to be treated equitably. That’s the second one.

The last one is to really ground yourself in the data. I don’t think that’s all that surprising given that I’m a gender economist—this idea that gender equity is not just a social issue, it is a massive economic opportunity.

I’ll give you one really quick example but bringing in the data to bear in those conversations matters because it’s not about me. It’s about economic opportunity for everyone. One of the things—and we talked about moms a little bit—that is a phenomenon that happens in the workplace is the motherhood penalty. That is this idea that women who are either mothers or who could just be at child-bearing age are less committed to their jobs because they’re moms or because they’re that age.

What that looks like is they experience opportunity gaps. They experience pay gaps. There’s actually a pay gap per child. For each child you have, the less you’ll earn.

Christelle: The less you make. Oh, wow.

Katica: The less you’ll earn. Then you have more expenses. However, what the research shows is that working moms are the most productive employees in the workforce over the course of their careers. 

As an employer, the folks that you want to invest in are working moms. That’s an immediate look for you. Knowing that, for instance, is arming yourself with the data and the facts about why this is an issue and why it’s not just about you, but it’s actually about a broader economic opportunity for everyone.

Christelle: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. Working moms are master multi-taskers.

Katica: And time scarcity. We have to get things done because we have only so much time.

Christelle: Yeah. I totally agree with that statement. Thank you for saying that.

Katica: You’re very welcome.

Christelle: I think that wraps up the show. Elizabeth, do you want to close us out?

Elizabeth: Yes. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing more about your career journey and of course, your organization. We’re so lucky to have had you.

Katica: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Christelle: Thank you.

If you enjoyed this session, subscribe and check out our series at fortressiq.com/podcast. Thanks for joining us today on hello, Human.