Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, October 21, 2021

IBM Lauding 40 Distinguished Women in AI Around the Globe for 2021 

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IBM has named 40 distinguished female technologists to its 2021 Women Leaders in AI list, which highlights women in business who are using IBM Watson to drive AI innovation across companies around the globe.

The list, which is part of IBM’s three-year-old Women Leaders in AI Program, includes awardees from 18 nations who are continuously demonstrating how efforts to advance natural language processing, automate processes and build responsible AI are transforming and accelerating their businesses, according to IBM.

The honorees are named annually to recognize and focus on women who are doing groundbreaking and exciting work with AI in the world of technology, which is typically dominated by men.

“If you look at the field of artificial intelligence, diversity is absolutely essential,” Ritika Gunnar, vice president of expert labs for IBM cloud and cognitive software, told EnterpriseAI. “When you're talking about the way that AI is going to be implemented at scale, it’s when you can remove the biases that exist within the data from which AI is created. Inherently, to remove biases, you need to have teams that can work together, that are diverse enough to understand those biases. And so, driving that diversity in the people who are creating the AI is essential … which means having women in the workforce of AI, is absolutely critical.”

Ritika Gunnar of IBM

A recent IBM Institute for Business Value study found that despite heightened awareness of the challenges facing women in today’s COVID-19-affected workforce, gender equality is still not a top priority for 70% of global businesses, according to the research results. Even worse, fewer women surveyed hold senior vice president, vice president, director and manager roles in 2021 than they did in 2019, the study concluded.

“To me, that’s what is personal about it,” said Gunnar. “If you need to have good AI that is really is trustworthy and transparent, you need to be able to have diverse teams creating it and therefore that challenge of having more women is extremely important.”

Other recent statistics from the World Economic Forum 2020 Global Gender Gap report found that the global data and AI workforce is made up of only 26% women, according to Gunnar. “That's an imbalance, which means we need to work a lot harder. Not only do we need women for diversity, but then if you look at the statistics, we're still very underrepresented in the field.”

More women are needed in AI and technology because they bring unique perspectives, she said. “That's absolutely part of it and so when we talk about the diversity in AI, it is the diversity of perspective, it is the diversity in the way you come across things … and how you detect different components, like where biases exist because you do have different approaches to solving the same kind of problem.”

The 40 leaders recognized by IBM in 2021 were selected based upon the ways they are using AI as a transformation agent to help drive results for their organizations and the employees, customers and citizens they serve, according to the company. The program began in 2019 as a way to encourage increased diverse participation in the field and provide honorees a network for shared learning.

The 2021 honorees are “great women with … really progressive examples of how they're using AI and IBM Watson applied to real business problems,” said Gunnar.

The 40 honorees include women such as Ekaterina Ostankova, product manager of the virtual assistant lab at UK-based Lloyds Banking Group, and Annie Shu, manager of strategy and innovation at Australia-based bank, Westpac.

“Ekaterina is a fantastic, phenomenal woman who used our [IBM Watson] assistive technologies to really meet the surge in customer requests that came in during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gunnar. “This is a very real thing we saw experienced by many during COVID-19 where a lot of the technologies using AI and assistants were surging because [customers] had a lot more questions” about delaying payments and asking about financing.”

Shu at Westpac innovated using IBM Watson to create an AI assistant that is helping people find new jobs, including teenagers landing their first jobs, using an avatar that makes the process more comfortable, said Gunnar. “I thought this was fantastic because it is about using technologies in ways that really are experiencing the end [user’s needs] and the way that they want to be able to do things.”

The 40 women on this year’s list are doing amazing things and leading with poise in the field of AI, which has earned them their accolades, said Gunnar. “They are really shaping the future of how AI is truly being applied in business, which to us is really important. Not just building AI for AI’s sake, but for what it means to launch AI [initiatives that bring success].”

Here is the complete list of 2021 IBM Women Leaders in AI:

Joan Francy, CEO, AdMed (United States)

Chimka Munkhbayar, Co-founder, Agrolly (Mongolia)

Manoela Morais, CEO and Co-founder, Agrolly (Brazil)

Helen Tsai, Web Developer Lead and Co-founder, Agrolly (Taiwan)

Airei Soh, Assistant Manager, Marketing Strategy System & Solution Planning, All Nippon Airways (Japan)

Leah Karlin, Director of Machine Learning and Data Engineering, At Point of Care (United States)

Fella Benaziza, UX Designer Consultant, Capgemini France (France)

Elisabetta Burei, BRM Technology CRM, CheBanca! (Italy)

Divya Rathanlal, Emerging Technology Program Manager, City of Austin Texas (United States)

Regina Olivares, Principal Management Analyst, Clark County (United States)

Siew Choo Soh, Managing Director, DBS (Singapore)

Sandra Corkern, Associate Director, Real Estate Technology and Innovation, EY (Ernst & Young LLP) (United States)

Jennifer Turner, Senior Director, Digital Innovation, Strategy and Transactions, EY-Parthenon (Ernst & Young LLP) (United States)

Sabita Sharma, AVP, Automation and Innovation, Everest Re Group (United States)

Tracey Hawes, General Manager, Marketing and Trading, Fine Wine Delivery (New Zealand)

Julie Losee, Manager, Equipment Lease Accounting, Ford Motor Company (United States)

Denise Stokowski, Group VP, Platform Products, Gainsight (United States)

Hagit Tzafrir, SVP Healthcare Division, Harel Insurance & Finance (Israel)

Annapurna Vishwanathan, Former Head of Digital, HCCB (Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd.) (India)

Curren Katz, Director of Data Science R&D, Highmark Health (United States)

Satoko Maeda, Senior Managerial Staff, Hiroshima Prefectural Government (Japan)

Mari Sasaki, Data Construction and Media Product Director, Kakuichi (Japan)

Anette Böhm, General Manager, Corporate HR, KBC Group (Belgium)

Ekaterina Ostankova, Product Manager – Virtual Assistant Lab, Lloyds Banking Group (United Kingdom)

Kaori Matsue, Senior Director, General Manager of Responsible Care and Quality Assurance Division, Mitsui Chemicals (Japan)

Alu Rodríguez, SVP Business Transformation, NH Hotel Group (Spain)

Jeanette Fürst, Director of Sales, OpenAdvice IT Services (Germany)

Donatella Sciuto, Professor of Computer Engineering and Executive Vice Rector, Politecnico di Milano (Italy)

Bharathi Ramadass, IT Product Manager, ServiceNow (United States)

Gema T. Pérez Ramón, Director, Taxation Office, Madrid Municipality (Spain)

Melissa Dorey, Digital Experience Principal, Telstra (Australia)

Lisa Sherman, President and CEO, The Ad Council (United States)

Pam Griffin, Associate Director, Cleaning Division, The Clorox Company (United States)

Poonam Verma, Managing Director, Head of Security Engineering and Operations, The Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC) (United States)

Supaluck Umpujh, Chair, The Mall Group (Thailand)

Manami Endo, IT Planning Section, Information System Department, TRUSCO Nakayama Corporation (Japan)

Mio Sugihara, Assistant Manager, System Management Section, TRUSCO Nakayama Corporation (Japan)

Catharine Fennell, CEO, videoBIO (Canada)

Amy Oding, Operational Support and Automation Manager, Vodafone (New Zealand)

Annie Shu, Manager of Strategy and Innovation, Westpac (Australia)

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