“From Culture to Products: Why Diversity in Technology Matters”: Intel Executive Panel (Video + Transcript)

March 8, 2022

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Next up, we want to welcome a panel of Intel execs who will talk about why diversity and technology matters, from culture to products. Hema is the Director of Technical Advocacy with Ai4Good at Intel. Hema is going to kick things off. Welcome Hema.

Hema Chamraj: Thank you. Thank you, Sukrutha. Hi Sukrutha and Angie. Thanks for having us here. And I’m really glad to be here with my colleagues, Huma and Caroline. And let me hand it to Huma, so she can introduce herself, and then to Caroline, before we get talking.

Hema Chamraj: And also Huma, if you can say, I liked a panel in the past, the previous one where they said, “How did you come into being a technologist?” Is it like accident, or is this your lifelong dream of yours? Caroline, you can do the same.

Huma Abidi: Absolutely. So happy International Women’s Day for everybody. I love the theme this year break. The, so I am Huma Abidi Senior Director of AI Software Products at Intel. And in my role, I’ll talk about what I do now, and then I’ll talk about how I got into this.

Huma Abidi: So in my role, I lead a globally diverse team of engineers technologists, and they are responsible for delivering AI products, which help our customers to create the solutions. So pretty much my entire career, I would say, I have been a advocate for women’s advancement education and I founded Women in Machine Learning at Intel. And I’m involved in various solutions that Intel to do that. How did I come about?

Huma Abidi: I was studying to be a doctor, and I met my husband and all his friends, including Caroline here. So I met these people, bunch of engineers, who were awesome. And I took one computer science course, and then I ended up doing masters in computer science, and I basically let go my pre-med and chemistry and I came into technology. And I have been at Intel since.

Huma Abidi: I was a RCG, Recent College Graduate, and I spent my entire career at Intel doing all kinds of different technologies, binary translations, compilers. And right now I’m super excited to be working on AI, which is AI is everywhere. And I will pause now let Caroline talk, because I can go on forever.

Hema Chamraj: Yeah.

Caroline Chan: Hi, I’m Caroline Chan. I’m Vice President and General Manager of Network Business Incubation Division inside Intel’s Network and Edge group. So my focus is on 5G and Edge, especially around taking 5G into different enterprises, different verticals. So how did I come about doing this?

Caroline Chan: I think I was born into this. My mother was one of the first women in China that graduated in a engineering degree, and not just any engineering, but she was actually working on communication side. So I never had an option, I guess. Both my parents were in this field. They were professors back in China. So when I came here at 18 years old, I went to University of Texas in Austin, and I started engineering school and never looked back.

Caroline Chan: And not just engineering, but I’ve been in wireless and telco my entire career. I had the fortune to meet Huma when she first got married to her husband. Her husband and I were actually classmates and good friends, so I trap her into doing this, the engineering field, but it has been great. I’m doing a lot of this, similar to Huma is, it’s pay it forward.

Caroline Chan: We went through this journey, there’s challenges, the learnings we would like to share that with the ladies coming after us, and hopefully we benefit everyone.

Hema Chamraj: Thank you. Thank you, Caroline. And the same with me, right? And you said you had no choice but to be an engineer. I had two choices, right? Like the one in the previous panel, either be a doctor, or an engineer. And so I was like you, who I just realized, I wanted to be a doctor just like my sister, and it just happened just like…

Hema Chamraj: It was a very, very conservative family. I couldn’t travel to the place where I had to go to college, and so I ended up taking engineering and I love it. I went to school here and I did my masters, came to engineer to Intel, the greatest company that built technology. And I’ve been here. I love it.

Hema Chamraj: And I started really hands-on, trying to build tools, and then move on to saying, “You know what? I want to really understand how technology impacts people.” Right? And that’s where I’ve been really, really focused on trying to understand how technology can be used for good.

Hema Chamraj: And I want to get your perspective as we think about this, right. It’s like we think about… We get all excited about technologies, about the superpowers, like AI, 5G, Edge, Cloud. And it’s a great, exciting time right now, because companies realize that it’s great.

Hema Chamraj: In order to build this powerful, rich technology products and platforms, we had to put people in the center of it. Right? And they’re walking the talk, trying to put things into place to make sure people are at the center of it. Right? But then again, if you hear people, right, it’s like, there’s little bit of overload of everything DEI, and there like there’s little bit of an overload of everything DEI, and there is like people are like, what is this big hoopla about DEI?

Hema Chamraj: And I thought, as women we kind of internalize that we have been through so many challenges, we understand why it is needed, but in a day-to-day work, I thought it would be good to share our perspective on why DEI is important.

Hema Chamraj: And I can kind of kick it off quickly when I think about tech and AI for good, like technology has been like pervasive, like AI especially has been pervasive in terms of how it has kind of touched so many industry sectors, how much it has impacted our lives in many areas.

Hema Chamraj: And then, because I have a health and life sciences kind of focus, I can really appreciate how much AI has compressed the time and money and kind of made things possible that was not possible before.

Hema Chamraj: And yet we have seen in many ways, AI also has kind of shown how things can go wrong when it comes to your healthcare or hiring or justice, you’ve seen so many examples where it has gone wrong and it really comes down to the thing that one of the key problems is the lack of representation.

Hema Chamraj: The lack of representation, the diverse thoughts, the diverse experiences that need to be there to kind of really make sure we have representation at the data level. Because when you think of what healthcare, there’s very much lacking…

Hema Chamraj: Women’s data is lacking in healthcare. So if you think of data or even the representation of people who are building tools or people who are making the decisions, there’s the lack of representation.

Hema Chamraj: And so without that, I really feel we will never be able to realize the superpowers that we talk about. For me, tech or AI for good, it’s really critical to have representation because without which it really… We’ll not see tech being used for good. So that’s my perspective. Let me bring in AI, Huma, because you and your team are building the AI tools, so what is your perspective on why DEI?

Huma Abidi: Yeah. As you said, Hema, that AI is everywhere. Absolutely. And this is from helping determine who is hired or fired or granting a loan, or how much time [inaudible] or how long a person should spend time in prison, or should they be back in prison or whatever. All kinds of decisions that were traditionally performed by humans are now being made by algorithms.

Huma Abidi: So it is no surprise that AI is learning gender and other biases from humans and it’s a huge societal issue, whether I’m building products or whatever… Let’s just talk about that first and then I’ll talk about specifics or what I’m doing about it. So over and over again, we hear about examples, especially that are highlighting these biases towards women and minority, and as you said, we can have data bias.

Huma Abidi: Data is coming from society, and so lack of representation there in the data and then algorithms also. People who are building these algorithms, if they are not representing underrepresented minority or women, then that leaks into the algorithm as well. So this is not only first technical problem because, as I just said, there is innate or unconscious bias that will show up in the decisions making.

Huma Abidi: So if people who are building or creating technology is homogenous, then it’ll work for that particular work thing. So that is true for any technology but especially in AI because it is making those kind of [inaudible] decisions.

Huma Abidi: In my opinion, if women and other minorities from community are part of the teams developing these tools, they will be more aware of what can go wrong. So first let’s talk about that.

Huma Abidi: And working in AI projects, we need to make sure our current and future algorithms are not just powerful, but they’re also ethical and fair, and that’s what my focus is. That’s something that I actually initiated on my own to make sure that let’s focus on how much explainability is there in our software that we’re building.

Huma Abidi: So besides that, I obviously as I mentioned in the beginning, I’m advocate for women and I founded women in machine learning and encouraging women to be a part of that and, Hema, to your point, I’ve found out that women are very interested in AI for social good projects. Whenever I talk about, they’re like, “Can I be part of it?” I feel like women want to be in a world where they want to see their children and others have a fair-

Hema Chamraj: Future generations, yeah.

Huma Abidi: Yeah. So coming back to explainable AI, AI decisions especially in deep neural networks. Machine learning still has decision trees and all where you can see how decisions are made, classic machine learning. But deep neural networks, it’s like a black box. We don’t know how these decisions are made. What is… Am I taking too much time?

Hema Chamraj: [crosstalk] Yeah. Go head.

Huma Abidi: I will just wrap up and say that explainable AI, data sheets for dataset where the data came from, model cards for model explainability, all of that and those things are being put in and that’s going to help with that. [crosstalk]

Hema Chamraj: Yeah, yeah. I think what you’re saying is basically AI is like reinforces and amplifies what we do, so the more good we put in with the right representation, good comes out of it. Otherwise, it can go the negative way. S

Hema Chamraj: o Caroline, you are really driving this exciting place of 5G Edge right and broadband access has kind of shown how critical it is, especially in these times of the pandemic crisis or the conflicts that we are watching. Can you please share with us? Why do you think DEI is important for enabling this innovative?

Caroline Chan: Yeah. Wireless and telco industry long had issues with DEI because it has been always selling to a very finite set of customers taken by AT&T or Verizon and so on. But with 5G, the pervasive connectivity, much like the pervasive AI, you have to reach into every different enterprises and verticals.

Caroline Chan: What that means is your audience, your end customers rapidly becomes everybody in a society, so 50% of our women. And you have to have that different mindset. I’ll give you example.

Caroline Chan: We launched a project in Sacramento School District during the crisis that we are facing because children were not able to learn. In some neighborhoods, they do not have a rich communication. So the folks that work on this, as mother, we immediately recognized how critical that is.

Caroline Chan: Intel Foundation came in, the network group alongside with AWS and other companies that went in, immediately put in a rich communication based on 5G and based on wifi to enable our children to learn.

Caroline Chan: Right now, we are working on a critical project to put in containers with communications with satellite up-links on the border with Poland, so that when the mothers with their children arriving from Ukraine were able to at least let their family back home know that they arrived safely, is that kind of empathy that I think some of us women probably have a little bit more because our experience as daughters and mothers and sisters and wives, we emphasize more.

Caroline Chan: To me, it’s not just selling something. It’s really a project or passion. It’s about technology for good. You talk about AI for good. I always have [inaudible] philosophy 5G needs to be for good as well. It’s not just for selling. It’s really for enriching our lives, make our lives better than before.

Hema Chamraj: Like you said, we have that built-in kind of empathy, but at the same time we feel like this is not something that women are like we can do it alone, right? We need the broader community, but there’s been a little bit of discomfort if you maybe have seen, how should we kind of address that?

Hema Chamraj: We know it’s important. We know how it’s impacting the technologies. It is needed for building rich products and better results. But how do we kind of help them help us to kind of make this become a reality where we have equal representation, the diverse representation? Any thoughts?

Caroline Chan: If I just thought when in a telco side, majority of the decision makers are still men. We need them. We need them to be part of the game. We simply are saying is that women has been so underrepresented all those years and we simply wanted to have gain more visibility, but in reality, 80% of the time we are working with other men, we ask for more understanding and we should also make us all more visible, a little bit more vulnerable sharing when we are feeling that we need help or we need them to help us.

Caroline Chan: I think we should be more vocal. I do find most people, most men are open to work with us, but vast majority are.

Hema Chamraj: How would you, Huma, [crosstalk]

Huma Abidi: Yeah, yeah. I 100% agree with Caroline, but I feel that we have to first level the playing field. That’s what I tell people that of course, if you are referring to that, there was somebody was commenting why do they have Women’s International Day? And why do we, you know, whatever, diversity and this.

Huma Abidi: And this is a fact. We have the data to prove that we don’t have… So at Intel, we are doing so many different things. For example, in 2019, I believe we reached gender pay equity. It took so many years and finally, we reached that goal. And this is global. Then we are taking goals. There is a reason why we are taking goals because this is a problem.

Huma Abidi: For our 2030 goals, one is for women and underrepresented minorities to double the number of them in senior leadership position. There was a problem because [inaudible] there. The other one is by 2030, 40% of women will be in the technical field working in technology. So these are the things.

Huma Abidi: So first we level the playing field. Of course, there would be diversity for everyone, there won’t be women, but right now we have an issue, and as Caroline said, a lot of men means they have been so supportive and so it’s been awesome that we have support, but if there are these questions asked, this is my response always.

Hema Chamraj: Very correct. Right. I mean, you’re talking about the need, what is the need. I mean, the fact that there is less than 25% of role of women representation in AI. When there is 75% of jobs out there, I mean, the disparity needs to be fixed.

Hema Chamraj: And then we have to kind of create this environment of I’m part of women in AI group where we call zero exclusion, nobody’s excluded. We want everybody to come in and help us, but there is a disparity, help us really fix that one.

Hema Chamraj: I have mentors who are men, who are really being really supportive and I would encourage more of them to kind of step out and help us get to a place where we really create this reality where we are all in there.

Hema Chamraj: There are no holes in any of the data, there’s no holes in representation, and we can really create some amazing things. And again, I’m glad that Intel is actually walking the talk. They have this [inaudible] goals like the ones that you talked about, Huma, in that how to double the number of women in the leadership roles. And also the fact that we should start a lead. I mean, it’s not just hiring and retaining, it also [crosstalk]. Yeah. So anything on that one, and what we could do better on the pipeline?

Huma Abidi: Yeah. So again, I’ll come back to the work that Intel is doing. Obviously, I’m very involved in various things, but there is a million girls moonshot project that Intel has, and it has joined forces with some fantastic foundations. A

Huma Abidi: nd this is aimed at equipping one million girls from under-resourced communities with engineering mindset. Once we have that, that is the building the pipeline and once we have enough in the pipeline, then we can just change. So foundation has to be changed. We cannot just [inaudible].

Hema Chamraj: I see Angie’s kind of doing [crosstalk]

Angie Chang: Thank you so much.

Hema Chamraj: [crosstalk] But thank you.

Angie Chang: It’s a fast full conference day. Thank you so much for joining us.

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