The latest episode of SHEleader in a SHEll meets you with Katerina Athanasopoulou, Marketing Director CEE at Dell Technologies.

New technologies can help us to overcome some of the most important challenges in the digital industry today: lack of equal opportunities and work atmosphere that stimulates talents of both women and men as well as the severe problem of women’s underrepresentation in the ICT. However, the technology itself is not the answer nor the universal recipe. It can be the solution but also can create more challenges because emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence depend on our decisions.

What should we do?

In searching for solutions, the Bulgarian Center of Women in Technologies (BCWT) has invited a female leader with deep knowledge on the topic as our new guest in the special format SHEleader in a SHEll. In December’s edition, called “Women Leadership is not a Risk but a Solution in the Time of Transformation” Sasha Bezuhanova, Founder of BCWT, talked with Katerina Athanasopoulou, Marketing Director CEE at Dell Technologies. Katherina has a special interest in the topic of AI’s influence on the professional field but also the social effects of it. She is also an active promoter of women’s engagement in the digital industry. Katerina actively works with the Sofia-based team of the corporation on various topics, including female engagement.

The conversation

Sasha Bezuhanova opened the discussion with several important remarks. According to her, the topic of women’s engagement in the digital industry has been on the agenda of political and corporate leadership for quite some time due to purely economic reasons created by the digital transformation and global connectivity – the ICT needs more well-equipped professionals. However, the figures are still not encouraging and there is still a lot to be done as, for instance, in the EU only 16% of the professionals in the digital industry are women. The cores of the problem are the general perceptions in the society, said Sasha.

“Now every business is digital and there is an urgent need for more engineers and professionals with digital skills. Stimulation of women’s engagement in this labeled as the male professional field will unlock big potential in a faster way. On the other side of the scale, is the growing digital divide in the age of automation where women are at a bigger risk – 20% more women than men are digitally illiterate.

But there is one less realized risk that affects all of us already and will affect even more the next generations – the reproduction or the tendency to reproduce our societal models in the virtual world. Male-female social roles are in the avatars of computer games, they are encoded in the algorithms of artificial intelligence-based products.

The underrepresentation of women in the AI professional teams is a risk for programming the future with the same biases that we are fighting today. The World Economic Forum has recently announced that women are only 22% of the AI teams.”

According to Katerina, technology can go wrong or it can be used for helping society. The road ahead depends on people and their decisions. Therefore, according to Katerina, it is important to democratize the tools in emerging technologies such as AI.

“As a technology industry we are faced with challenges: they are business challenges like labor shortages or the need for more talents which are the same for all companies. But there are also societal challenges – aging, globalization, pandemic – and we need each qualified person to be able to tackle this. There are two ways to address those problems: one is a technology and the other one is people.

The technology can help but it is not flawless because it can also be part of the problem. So, on one hand, you have artificial intelligence or machine learning that can help us diagnose and resolve any problems. But, on the other hand, if we as humans do not ensure that we would not feed biases into the systems – then we are creating a flawed system because in AI or machine learning we, the humans, are feeding the system with the data set.”

Katerina (on the left) and Sasha (on the right) during the discussion.

Katerina gave several examples including the facial recognition technology in the US which detects the face of a black woman only when she put on her white mask. Or a new credit card system that gives smaller credit lines to women than men.

“We should make sure that different types of people are represented if not – the computer will learn only to recognize certain people. We should bring an element of ethics in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In AI it is important to democratize the tools – the more people work those tools, the more we can spot those problems. We can’t stop the progress, we can not blame the others but we all need to be part of this process.”

Watch the full conversation between Sasha and Katerina for free in the link below. This edition of SHEleader in a SHEll is supported by the “Crisis as an Opportunity” Program of  Sofia Municipality, administered by Sofia Development Association. MOVE.BG is a communication partner of SHEleader in a SHEll. Watch all episodes of the format in our video list here.

Support BCWT and our efforts to engage more women in the digital industry and to change the work atmosphere in the ICT to a one that unlocks the potential of everyone. Donate to our initiatives here.