For me, attending a women's-oriented conference is often more for inspiration than information. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the recent Tech Up for Women Conference at the Javits Center in New York, offered both. Speakers from a range of industries not only shared their struggles to find the right career path and overcome obstacles, but they also offered valuable insights in their respective areas of expertise. The big topics were career management and the impact of data and new technology in specific areas of expertise.
When I set out on my career path, I had no idea where the road would lead and generally went with the flow of opportunities. But it probably wasn't the most strategic way to go. Navigating a career path takes a combination of acumen, discipline, and opportunity. And all three are valuable skills that every professional should develop. Take Randi Zuckerberg, for example, who launched the Zuckerberg Institute when she left her job as director of market development at Facebook. Granted, she had a step up from the general crowd as the sister of Mark Zuckerberg, but her path to success on her own was not guaranteed.
An obstacle she faces that is common to many of us is fear: fear of making mistakes, of being not smart enough, and, as Zuckerberg said, of not being "fill-in-the-blank" enough. But being scared is a motivator, in a way. "If you ever get to a point in your career where you don't care enough to be scared, you need a huge reassessment of your life and what you are doing," she noted.
Zuckerberg also talked about knowing when to exit an opportunity, talking about her board experience as an example. Women are notoriously underrepresented on boards and sometimes appointing a single female professional is, sadly, deemed sufficient. "I've been on a lot of boards where I was the token woman," Zuckerberg explained. "You could tell that they pat themselves on the back for checking off the diversity box. Hey, cool, we got a woman. Now, move on." But, she warned, "It was never successful because when I was only one, I didn't feel comfortable speaking up at meetings or disagreeing. I was outvoted on everything and I wound up stepping down from every single one of those boards."
The presence of more than one woman on a board creates a powerful dynamic that empowers all. Zuckerberg is currently a member of a female-majority board and, she said, "what ends up happening in those board meetings is that a woman speaks, the other women back her up, and then really interesting discussions happen. For the first time, I realized that this is what happens when I am not the only one, [and] much better decisions get made."
Advice for those companies looking for diverse board members: Don't choose just one woman and think that is enough.
Impact of Data and Technology
Sabina Ewing, vice president, business technology, for Pfizer's Upjohn Business is applying big data and technology to help the company develop medicines to improve lives and mitigate disease, as well as to improve access and education regarding these advancements. "Technology is key to making this a reality," she stated, emphasizing how technology is shaping today's healthcare industry. She advocates the use of technology to create a "surround-sound [of information] around the patient, not only about the medicine they take, but also about all of the other new capabilities we have to support that patient through that treatment."
The advancement of wearables helps with everyday healthcare, including helping to monitor medications. Apps are being developed, such as iBreastexam in India, which has helped screen more than 74,000 asymptomatic women at health clinics, identifying some with breast abnormalities and some with breast cancer. Finally, the use of VR in Japan, is helping to change perceptions of care by immersing the participant in what it feels like to have Alzheimer's.
The AI Evolution
Rima Alameddine, vice president, enterprise sales, at NVIDIA is focusing her attention on the impact of AI by leveraging deep learning. AI is spurring "an incredible wave of innovation that will impact every industry, every company, and every person," Alameddine said. She explained that deep learning is a new computer model that learns directly from the data. "The beauty of this approach," she added, "is that we can now leverage unstructured data sources that were previously unavailable to us — such as text, audio, images, video — and we can ask and answer questions."
The application of this technology can be used to diagnose CT scans, improve online banking with the use of voice recognition, and reduce the use of herbicides in farming by identifying weeds from crops, for example. But I was struck by how much of an impact this deep learning protocol has for the media industry with all of our unstructured datasets, in addition to our structured first-party data. How great would it be to be able to derive content and audience insights from the combination of audio, hard data, images, social media texts, and video?
The world is an increasingly complicated place. So, the ability to engage the help of others, form partnerships and support networks, and embrace and leverage new technology, all become part and parcel of a successful career. No matter what your gender is, the importance of diversity in the workplace, as well as the strategic intention of applying advanced technology in one's job, is pivotal to success. You need both and you need it today.
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