Episode 13 – Integrating the Business Lens of Women in Technology

FortressIQ | Intelligent Insights for the Modern Enterprise
Episode 13 - Integrating the Business Lens of Women in Technology
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Some estimates put the number of unfilled tech jobs at more than one million, yet women hold fewer than 25% of all technology jobs. There are a number of reasons women are under-represented in the sector: gender bias, a lack of information about the potential for STEM careers early in a girl’s education, a shortage of female mentors, company cultures that don’t adequately support women technologists and more. However, the bottom line is that not enough women are pursuing careers in tech. Fortunately, times are changing, and some companies are taking steps to attract more women employees by addressing pay gaps, offering flexible work policies and implementing programs to help women employees thrive.

In today’s episode, host Jon Knisley, long-time technologist helping companies win the market with emerging AI technologies, Grace Chen from FortressIQ, and series producer Elizabeth Mitelman talk with Tripti Sethi, the Senior Director and Global Data & AI COE Lead at Avanade. Grace, Elizabeth, and Tripti discuss Tripti’s career journey, her insights in the future of AI, how businesses can change the industry in a positive way, and her advice for women who want to go into the field of tech and AI. Tripti brings her unique take and expertise in the topics of business and technology and how they go hand-in-hand, as well as her experiences being a woman in the industry.

Talking Points:

  • Tripti’s journey from her interest in mechanical engineering to a career in tech
  • Her story as the first data scientist hired at Avanade
  • How companies’ business goals have shifted around the intention of using AI
  • The positive changes in the industry
  • Areas which will be best fit to change in the next few years due to the use of AI
  • How the future roles in AI are changing
  • Advice for those interested in going into the field of AI
  • What companies can do to drive positive change within their own company and in the industry

Resources/Links:

Avanade

FortressIQ 

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:

John: Hi and welcome to hello, Human, a podcast to explore ideas and feature humans working in AI and technology. Tripti Sethi, the global data and AI center of excellence lead at Avanade joins us today on the hello, Human Podcast, where we discuss the latest topics in artificial intelligence and how it’s being applied in the real world. I’m John Knisley, the host of hello, Human and a long-time technologist helping companies adopt and utilize emerging digital solutions.

A big thanks to FortressIQ for sponsoring the program and be sure to hit the subscribe button wherever you listen to podcasts. This episode is part of a special series on women in AI that we are very excited about here at FortressIQ. Elizabeth Mitelman from our marketing team who’s been the key driver of this special series is participating in the session as well. In this episode, we’re going to explore the women in the technology gap. Some estimates put the number of unfilled tech jobs at more than 1 million, yet women hold fewer than 25% of all technology jobs.

From gender bias to a shortage of mentors, to company cultures, there are many reasons women are under-represented in the sector, however, the bottom line is that not enough women are pursuing careers in tech. Fortunately, times are changing and some companies are taking important steps to attract more women employees. Avanade, the global consultancy, is a great example of a company taking a proactive approach. This promises to be a fascinating discussion.

FortressIQ’s chief-of-staff, Grace Chen, joins Elizabeth to drive the conversation with Tripti. Thanks again for tuning in to hello, Human, and our special women in AI miniseries.

Grace: Thank you so much for joining us today. You grew up in India and studied mechanical engineering and received a dual master’s degree in operations research and industrial engineering from Penn State. You’ve really worked across the world including the US, UK, India, the Netherlands to just name a few. Today, you work at one of our very own partners, Avanade, as a leader of data and AI center of intelligence.

Can you take us back to the start of your journey in the world of tech and share some of the pivotal experiences that landed you where you are in your career, today?

Tripti: Absolutely. I just want to start, Grace, by thanking you for having me on this podcast. If I go back to the very start of my journey, I never actually thought I would be in tech. As a kid, I loved swimming. I love reading. I really thought I would do English literature and go to Oxford. Somewhere around the way, I stumbled on mechanical engineering. I still think about the fact that I’d do an MBA and really move away from tech even at that time. I fell in love with something called operations research in my last year of mechanical engineering.

The whole world of mathematical modeling and a little bit of economics just started really appealing to me. I would say that was the first pivotal moment that really made me think long and hard about a career in tech. I applied to Penn State. They had a great program for dual masters. Again, I not only got the grounding in things like linear programming, and stochastic modeling, statistics but I also got a chance to work with marketing departments to do things like gaming theory and supply chain analytics and really get that first grounding of how some of these mathematical concepts and technology concepts actually impact the business.

Having moved on from there was, I would say, maybe one of my next pivotal moments. I worked a lot in the industry. I worked for a financial services company. I worked in manufacturing, but then I think my move to consulting was another shift. At a pretty young age, I was given the opportunity to set up the offshore analytics practice for Capgemini, which is the company I was with then.

Again, this opportunity to grow out a team that does what was then called analytics or AI as part of broader advisory or consulting pieces was quite pivotal for me. Everything around that, I got the opportunity to move to London, work with clients, deliver projects, and be part of a global team. Then finally, Avanade was just the next step in the journey where again, I got the opportunity to set up our AI practice for Europe. I got a chance to do a lot of mentorships, speaking engagements, and really take a step forward in other certain dimensions as well.

Also Grace, finally moving to Seattle, you’re right when you said I’ve moved around a lot but I just look at it as a lot of opportunities and a lot of global experience. For me, it’s not been one pivotal moment. It’s just been a thread of experiences building on top of each other and the openness to trying new things and still staying very people-oriented and very customer-oriented remain the most pivotal points for me.

Grace: That’s incredible. You are the first data scientist hired at Avanade. Can you share more about that experience? How were you able to scale your team, department, and practice?

Tripti: Yeah, absolutely. It was such a great opportunity when Avanade came to me and talked about the fact that Microsoft obviously is making huge strides in the fields of data science and AI. We really wanted to grow out of our practice just given the structure of Avanade and who we are. I actually spent my first year in the Netherlands because there were a lot of opportunities. When you talk about growing out of practice, it starts with the fundamental building blocks.

What are the first opportunities that we find in the market to sell these new concepts of AI and machine learning—they’re not really new, they’ve been around forever—really help our clients come on this journey with us. There was a lot of capability building. Both are hiring externally, I remember my first year we hired 50 data scientists in Europe from different geographies. But also creating training programs and up-skilling our own talent that had a lot of interest in the space as well. Making sure we had the right partners in our journey like yourselves and other partners that we work with.

Making sure that we have the right ecosystem and then finally making sure we think about the industry and the use cases and what assets we could build. Step-by-step, a lot of things started falling into places and we continue to grow out on this journey. Two and a half years into my journey with Avanade, I got the opportunity to move to the US and also grow out our AI capabilities in our global center of excellence. This again gave a lot of momentum to the practice to be able to have a global team that is the tip of the spear doing some leading-edge things. It’s just really grown from there.

Grace: That’s amazing.

Tripti: Thank you.

Elizabeth: Absolutely, I have to agree. It really is amazing especially being one of the first female and data scientist heads at your organization. That’s absolutely amazing. Well, thank you Tripti and Grace. Thank you both so much for joining us today. Tripti, you started with a rigorous academic path in engineering and you had an interest in operations research. Now fast forward to today where your everyday role is immersed in cutting-edge data and AI. As we all know, technology has changed and advanced immensely over the years and will only continue to do so. You previously mentioned taking the business angle is equally important in technology. How do you think the decisions you have made in your career path in technology have allowed you to come to that insight today?

Tripti: The first moment in my career where I really understood the importance of business and technology and AI actually came when I was working with Prudential which is a UK-based financial services company. I was pretty much the data scientist or the analytics person doing reporting, creating machine learning algorithms, crunching out data, and creating some insights.

My then boss who was super supportive said, I actually want you to lead two of our products or portfolios from a sales and marketing perspective. He gave me their annuities and their maturity life and pension portfolios. Now, I really understood not just the fact that I need to predict the risk of a customer leaving, or as we’d say in insurance, business lapsing, but I also need to understand how the message to that customers should be crafted out. What’s the right channel that the customer would respond to?

What’s the cost of that message? How does a contact center work? How many leads can generally get prioritized in a day? It got me to that realization that the best model predictions can fail if the marketing, the sales, all the aspects around it are not in place, if the strategy is not in place, if the change management is not in place. That was really an eye-opener for me to see how some of the things we did with technology and AI were actually used in practice. A lot of this learning sparked my move to consulting and here it just strengthens more and more.

I talked about when I joined Capgemini. One of the things that excited me is that I joined a spot of the consulting business, really using analytics and AI to drive larger digital transformations or business transformations. The ability to work with different clients and different industries with different business problems at the end of the day that we’re trying to solve, just strengthen that and Avanade just to get many steps further. That’s, at least, my journey and that’s what sparked my understanding of the interplay between business and technology.

Elizabeth: Learning more about how your perspective has altered, how do you think companies’ business goals and priorities have shifted on having the intention around using AI?

Tripti: One of the things I see, maybe if I look at when I just started five years back in Avanade, a lot of companies were experimenting with AI. It was a cool, trendy buzzword. Companies were trying to get their arms around it. Now, I see the pivot of companies really wanting to solve problems that matter using the power of AI. A lot of companies and clients we talked with have admitted that projects have failed due to project delivery missteps, or lack of sufficient governance, or lack of a human-centered design.

This whole piece of AI being used to solve business outcomes, being used to have a human impact, we’re seeing more and more companies shift towards that. COVID has made another step-change because the world is facing such extraordinary challenges now that threaten the future and the companies and the businesses we work with do expect it to play quite an active role in addressing these issues and becoming more responsible in the way they treat their people, the environment, all of that.

One thing that the pandemic seems to be teaching everybody is that our choices really matter. We see that coming into play with the companies that we’re connecting with as well. Really, a little bit more about their shifting to creating solutions that are better for customers, their customers that are having a human impact.

Grace: You definitely have been in the mess of really just constant tech changes and advances throughout your career and now, we’re at a stage where we’re seeing AI embedded more broadly in our everyday lives. What do you think has changed the most and what applications in our daily lives are you most excited about?

Tripti: I’m personally most excited about the applications that can actually make a change for social good. I know I talked about human impact and the last question as well. In healthcare, some of the applications we’ve seen for AI in healthcare are just very exciting. In the early stages of COVID, just as an example, we know a lot of hospitals and healthcare providers were just inundated with calls. A lot of calls were about just I have the symptoms. What do I do? Where do I go?

My team had come together, among other solutions to do things like creating virtual agents that could take up-to-date information from places like CDC and NHS websites and actually guide patients and save a lot of call volume and save time. We were able to do things by tracking ventilators more effectively in the supply chain. Some of these applications can make such a huge difference to the allocation of resources to customers, the patients. I find that very exciting.

The whole step change that we’ve seen in using AI for things like environmental monitoring, or energy optimization, or driving commitments to reduce carbon footprints. These sorts of applications of AI I find very exciting. Also now, the ability to search a lot of unstructured data like documents and things like that. We’ve even seen nonprofits, for example, make the most of that and think about the grants, how can they be more gender equitable or can research from one place be used to impact another. Some of these, at least personally to me, I really find very exciting.

Grace: You talked a little bit about healthcare. Any other areas besides healthcare, nonprofit that you think will be the best fit to change in the next couple of years?

Tripti: Yes I do. A couple of them. I think supply chain, whether it’s in manufacturing and whether it’s in retail, but just the whole use of AI to provide more visibility across the supply chain, provide better inventory tracking, a better understanding of supplies and risk. All these aspects are going to change a lot over the next couple of years, workforce management and things about how you get back to work more easily and safely, how do you maybe use buildings now a little bit differently just given how the world’s changed COVID. I could definitely see some of these coming up as new applications. As I said, AI for sustainability for more responsible aspects as well. I can certainly see that playing a huge role, too.

Grace: Yeah, we’re seeing that here at FortressIQ as well, definitely how AI is allowing people and organizations to be more informed, and to be more improved in making the right decisions.

Elizabeth: Great. Going back to talking a little bit more about nontraditional roles in technology for some of the other young professionals who are listening to our podcast today, last month you were featured in an article, Being a woman in tech consulting. We’ll, of course, have the article featured in our show notes. Our listeners can go ahead and read it. The article featured a variety of topics, your current consulting and technology. For those that are interested in entering this fast-paced world of technology, especially young women, can you share a bit more about how you see the future roles of AI changing, also emphasizing the fact that our role in AI does not necessarily need to be a traditional software development role?

Tripti: Running back to some of the discussions that we’ve had around, the success in AI is not dependent on the data scientists alone. I say this being a data scientist. It is very important to have your data scientists and your AI practitioner, your software developer, but there are a lot of other aspects. That’s just one piece of the puzzle. Having the right strategy, having the right way to adopt some of the outcomes of the models that are being built, or the automation that is done—all of that plays a very important role in AI. With the rise of citizen development and low-code, no-code AI. We’re going to see the roles expanding out even further.

If I just think about that, what does that mean? You need somebody who has a strategy or advisory skills. You probably need a business analyst who can be the translator between tech and business and actually show the importance of technology to the business. You absolutely need your data scientists, your software developers, your AI practitioners. You may need an automation export who’s taking the outcomes that you get and helping automate them. We might be using digital marketing platforms to drive some of the outcomes. There could be some skills there. Design teams, market researchers, industry expertise because now, industry-specific point solutions are so important. Just through this, there are so many roles that women can play in technology for those who love to code and for those who maybe don’t love to code that much as well. I also want to see some of the roles that we will see an AI in the future may not even exist today.

For example, I could see roles coming up along with things like legal and governance aspects of how we govern AI. There could be things around regulatory and compliance policies as we scale this out more and more. There could be roles around reducing bias in data sets that come in and how diversity can play just a more key role in AI being more inclusive. I think there are going to be roles coming up that are so exciting that may not even exist today.

Grace: Yes, definitely. You touched on this a little bit around gender and women in tech. We know that women in technology and more specifically in AI are still not super commonplace across the industry today. How do you think leaders like yourself and the industry can help encourage more women to consider AI a career?

Tripti: I think our roles are so critical as women in AI. There are multiple routes to which we can encourage women in technology. Starting from the supply issue, all of us know there’s a supply issue of diversity in tech. Being able to, for example, do things like creating hackathons within schools to get people interested in technology and understanding how to code. There is some work I did with Teens in AI, for example, which is an organization in the UK that brings together teenagers from all over the world doing hackathons. We mentor the top two solutions that got featured on BBC.

There’s a lot of mentorships we can provide externally for women or people from diverse skill sets or diverse backgrounds, giving them some grounding in AI. For example, one of the initiatives I worked on was with Correlation One that has a great program that brings women from different backgrounds, gives them a bit of training, and pairs them up with industry mentors, and does capstone projects. All of these things and probably so many more—be an advocate for women in tech, by speaking engagements, by doing podcasts like today. All of these play a very key role. Not to forget the role within our own organizations as being allies, being mentors, being sponsors, and really being that voice and bringing men along the journey, too, because they play an equally important role in this as well.

Grace: Absolutely. To dive into that a little bit more, what do you think, more specifically, companies can do to help support and drive that change within their companies and industries?

Tripti: A lot of things. Being involved in some of the initiatives that I talked about, mentoring, sponsoring, tying up with universities, schools, making a commitment to hiring from a broader range of schools and backgrounds, right up to creating job descriptions that are more gender-neutral, making diversity part of the talent acquisition and recruitment process, thinking through other obstacles and taking women as an example, face technology like travel. Will we ever be traveling and consulting, for example, 80% of the time after COVID? Does that open a lot of doors?

Flexible policies around working weeks and part-time working and things like that. Anything right up to providing the mentorship and sponsorship opportunities within an organization. I think there’s a lot to do, Grace. I feel there’s no shortage of things companies can do in this journey.

Grace: Absolutely. I definitely agree with that.

Elizabeth: Yeah and there’s clearly a lot of room to create change and support for other women in and beyond the industry.

Tripti: For me, I am grounded to the two pieces of advice that I still stick to and they’re super simple. It’s a quote by Verna Myers. Hopefully, I’ve quoted the right person but we talk about people remembering how you made them feel. They forget what you did and what you said. I still think that’s really important. For all our future leaders, women or not—one thing specifically for women—we tend to focus a little bit more on things that maybe we need to improve and we don’t tend to focus on our strengths that much.

You see this also in a lot of job application stats where a woman will apply for a job where she meets 80% of the job requirements versus a male counterpart who does so and they meet 50% of the requirements. For women, specifically, maximizing your strengths and your uniqueness and what you bring to the table also can help you be a future leader. If I take my own case, I know how to code. I have great conceptual knowledge of data science algorithms, but I would have never been the best coder. I was the best person to drive AI and machine learning in a person’s business. That was my strength. That’s what I play throughout my career journey. Everybody has different strengths and different interests, so that’s what I would say.

Grace: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Tripti. You had truly an incredible journey and impact across so many different organizations and industries. We are very excited to see what’s next for you.

Tripti: Thank you so much, Grace. Thank you for the opportunity.

Elizabeth: Yes, thank you both Grace and Tripti for joining in today and sharing your insights.

If you like today’s episodes be sure to tune in to the rest of the series available on our website at fortressiq.com.

John: That’s a great insight and a great point to end on. To recap today’s conversation with Tripti Sethi, global data and AI center of excellence lead at Avanade, it’s unconscionable that women hold fewer than 25% of all technology jobs. The reasons are not overly surprising issues like gender bias and lack of mentors and company culture. At the end of the day, there are simply not enough women pursuing careers in tech. Fortunately, times are changing and some companies like Avanade are taking the necessary steps to attract more female employees.

Doing things like addressing pay gaps, offering flexible work policies, and implementing programs to help women employees thrive. This episode has been part of our special series on women in AI. A big thanks to Elizabeth Mitelman for spearheading the series and joining the session today, alongside FortressIQ’s Grace Chen. That’s a wrap on today’s show. Thank you Tripti for joining us and FortressIQ for sponsoring. I’m John Knisley and this has been hello, Human.

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