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Seen, heard, empowered: Pushing frontiers at the Women Tech Global Conference 2020

Aiming to unite 100,000 women in Technology-aligned careers, the Women Tech Global Conference 2020 was held online last June 10 to 12 through the interactive platform, Hopin, manifesting as a convergence of society and technological innovation.

The event featured a main “stage” for keynote talks, while simultaneous breakout segments were presented on the designated “sessions” portal of the site. In addition to networking “lounges”, there were also career “booths” set up by various companies and organizations, effectively molding a virtual space that went to lengths to simulate the real conference experience.

Over the course of the three-day conference, the tens of hundreds of sessions were short—usually around 20 or so minutes—but lasting with their diverse content and insightful speakers, seeking to urge the global community to “drive change with purpose and impact”, according to the official spiel.

Data at the core

Several sessions covered different approaches and methods driving Technology research and innovation. “A lot of the careers of tomorrow will be driven by data—how to gather data, analyze trends, and make informed decisions,” stated Rashi Desai, a Data Engineering intern at PepsiCo.

On dealing with “dirty data”, Susan Welsh—founder of The Classification Guru, a data classification and maintenance company—minced no words in saying, “There are no shortcuts.” Such data must go through “cleansing” and “classification” procedures, she noted, in order to be “consistent, organized, accurate, and trustworthy”, which are all crucial attributes to make the data useful for analytics and making decisions.

Indeed, ensuring that one has “clean” or accurate and appropriate data is a critical first step in many processes; this holds true too in undertaking Natural Language Processing (NLP), according to Jayeeta Putatunda, a data scientist from Indelligent US. NLP is a branch of Artificial Intelligence involving the development of programs or models capable of processing and deciphering human languages, thus facilitating better communication between the user and the computer.

Training a model to learn, however, often requires large swaths of quality data—something not always readily available depending on the scope and specifics of the project. As such, Putatunda demonstrated the appeal of employing Transfer Learning, wherein a model is first pre-trained on one task using a more general, already-labelled dataset, then later “repurposed on a second related task” with less labeled data.

Be it for speech, text, or image recognition tasks, the input data for both tasks would need to have “similar underlying properties” so that the “transfer of knowledge would be applicable [for] the learned features from task one,” as explained by Putatunda.

Mind the resources

Given how modern industries and technologies contribute hefty carbon emissions and deplete resources, climate change was another pressing issue tackled in the conference. “There is no plan B for the planet,” declared Lubomila Jordanova, chief executive officer of PlanA. Earth, a startup geared toward company sustainability by helping businesses monitor and reduce their carbon footprint.

Individual and corporate choices frequently are not linked to evidence on environmentally-detrimental behaviors and workflows, thus leading to “underfunded or unseen” problems. As such, Jordanova put forward, “Climate change will only be solved through collaboration…With data and collaboration, we can connect the dots between issues.”

People-centered

The emphasis on collaboration was echoed by RatePAY software engineer Sumana Saha, who presented pair programming as a way for people to “make decisions together quickly and effectively.” Working in pairs entails constructively criticizing each other, brainstorming new approaches, and identifying the best ideas or most optimal solutions for developing software, she highlighted.

Pairings typically fall under one of three variations: expert-expert, expert-novice, and novice-novice—with each duo having their respective work dynamics unique to the partnership.

Although both individuals would be largely inexperienced compared to someone at the expert level, even a novice-novice pairing would “produce significantly better results than working alone [as a beginner],” Saha pointed out. Further, she stressed that, in order to avoid pitfalls like loss of confidence and willingness to work, giving “validation to each idea shared by the partner” is a vital component of pair programming.

People remain at the heart of any technological innovation that comes to fruition; recognizing this facet were no shortage of inspirational talks on inclusivity, empowerment, and career and personal growth.

Cultivating healthier mindsets and behaviors was a common theme across a number of sessions. Business consultant and lifestyle coach Renée Dineen explored the phenomenon of “doing addiction” and the rising number of “workaholics” amid modern society putting a premium on productivity. “It’s not just an individual problem; it’s a societal problem…What we do gets rewarded more than who we are,” she explained, highlighting that the mentality of “‘do more, it’s not yet enough’ is a lie.”

Burnout and practicing self-care, meanwhile, were tackled by speaker and coach Brittany Sherell, sharing tips like “[having] a go-to affirmation” source as well as “[taking] bathroom reset breaks” to clear one’s mind and momentarily step away from the deluge of work.

Asserting that it would be a “disservice” to oneself to “show up less than full”, she furthered, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Thriving in tech

Gender bias is a persistent issue for women pursuing careers in the Technology industry. Siri Chilazi, Gender and Organizations Researcher from Harvard Kennedy School, cited how studies have shown that when recruiting for a “stereotypically masculine job, people tend to pick the male candidate despite qualifications.”

In a talk titled Fix Workplaces, Not Women, Netflix’s Head of Inclusion Michelle King attested, “One main barrier [for women] is the denial that inequality exists.”

With an understanding that such hurdles must be dismantled for the Technology sector to progress, the speakers made resounding statements of commitment to themselves, their goals, visions, and careers. “I want to be noticed wherever I go, not because I am a woman or [for] my skin color, but because of my ability to be the best at what I’m doing,” expressed Yaliwe Soko, chair of the United Africa Blockchain Association. “I am very determined to be a woman in [Technology].”

Additionally, author and wiseHer founder Kathryn Rose strongly advised, “Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.”

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