Women Leaders Shine at Affectiva Summit

It’s no secret that an unequal number of women in leadership roles remains a huge topic of discussion – and it should. I’ve been reflecting on the PR industry paradox: despite the fact that women make up between 60 to 80 percent of the PR workforce, only 20 percent of the senior leadership positions at PR agencies are held by women. The tech industry houses even fewer female leads, women making up only 17 percent of Fortune 500 CIOs. March serves the tech industry specifically because of our fascination with and belief in the power of technology to shape lives; but tech can only serve a population as diverse as its designers.

Last week, March supported our client Affectiva at their third Emotion AI summit, which explored a human-centric approach to AI with leaders from across the industry, 43 percent of which were women. Diversity in AI teams was an overarching theme throughout the day, and Rudina Seseri, Founder and Managing Partner of Glasswing Ventures, poignantly highlighted the need to mind gender disparity in technology. She reminded us that men and women’s brains work differently. If men code, how easily will women be able to later adopt the technology? Half of the diversity battle is getting people of different backgrounds in the room.

Diversity is an essential part of Rudina’s analysis when taking on new companies at GlassWing. She said lack of diversity is plain old bad business. Glasswing doesn’t include diversity in their analysis just for the sake of doing good, they’re focused on it because diversity equates to greater success. And it’s true – Rudina was recently recognized in Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 Powerful Women.

In tune with Glasswing’s commitment to elevating diverse teams, managing director Sarah Fay recently helped bring All Raise, a nonprofit working to increase the amount of venture capital designated to woman-founded companies, here to Boston after its San Francisco success. Our friend Rana el Kaliouby, Affectiva founder and CEO, joined Fay on the committee to set up All Raise.

Rana was once in the shoes of the women she’s hoping to help with All Raise. At the summit she introduced her upcoming book, Girl Decoded, which chronicles her journey (which she said is still very much in progress) challenging the expectations of a “nice Egyptian girl,” to become an entrepreneur in a male-dominated field. It’s so exciting that Rana is sharing her story, not only to spread the call for empathetic, human-centric AI, but to inspire the next generation of women-founders to break boundaries and other women in charge to follow her lead, sharing their own stories and giving back through programs like All Raise.

Jan Bruce, co-founder of meQuilibrium, had been reading stories like Rana’s for years as a publisher of women’s health magazines, eventually realizing that reading alone would not help change lives and lift women up. Jan completely switched careers and started meQuilibrium, a lifestyle management platform which helps manage stress and work/life balance. At the Summit, she spoke about using emotion AI to drive the improvement of lives, sharing excitement for the ability of AI to help people learn new skills.

Jennifer Lum, co-founder of Forge.ai and also a friend of March, also talked about the power of AI to empower humans to be better at their jobs, rather than replace the human workforce. She emphasized that when companies are more productive and successful, they can then hire more people. I loved hearing about how technology can help us grow as professionals and open new opportunities for people to succeed.

Affectiva’s Emotion AI Summit combined my two greatest passions: people and technology, with an added bonus of featuring one inspiring woman-founder after another. Listening to their missions to build technology that is diverse at its core and commitment to helping people be better confirmed my own drive to elevate companies like theirs and share my story as the leader of a woman-founded agency.


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