This article was featured in WOOL. Last updated for Wipro.com on March 6, 2020.
WOOL: Hi Rachel, thank you for speaking to us. We are beginning the New Year with a lot of buzz around the 5G roll out. I imagine it is one trend that will dominate telecommunications in 2019. What are the top three trends to watch out for this year?
WOOL: I was coming to the question of ethics around data protection next. In the scenario that you describe, what roles do you think regulation and large organizations need to play?
RH Governments and companies need to start talking more openly about ethics. They need to talk about developing ethical policies around data collection, data storage and data usage.
Historical data is inherently biased; gender biases, age biases, and as we move to a more inclusive future, biases against those in diverse groups, will be built into it. Organizations must make sure that these data sets are corrected, either by mixing them with additional and external data or training AI to identify and auto-correct the biases. This will require a new set of skills and behaviors - we need experts in ethics, demographics, socio-economics, anthropology and even psychology, not just pure data science.
Currently, we don't have the skills in our organizations to monitor the data sets that train AI. This is an two-pronged approach is to make sure we know incredibly difficult problem. AI solutions do not have the tools yet to help organizations spot when bias is introduced. So companies need to think carefully about when to use AI and for what purpose.
WOOL: When automation is introduced, there is an inherent fear among people about embracing the digital transformation. So when you introduce a piece of technology, how do you address issues that arise out of this transition?
RH We use two complementary techniques - one is human-centered design. This is incredibly important because it puts human beings at the heart of the process. It does not say - I have this great new technology capability, let me find a problem to solve with it. It forces you to start with people, understand their concerns, pain points and challenges and co-create a solution.
We use design thinking techniques to conduct deep user research, validate problem statements and hypotheses, evolve concepts through broad collaboration, create prototypes and get rapid feedback - this allows you to get to a minimal viable version of the solution. By involving customers at every state of the change process, the change is better understood and more readily accepted.
At BT, when we started talking about RPA (robotic process automation), people feared job losses. I recorded an internal version of a TED talk, positioning our thinking on RPA as augmented intelligence - taking the robot out of humans, not replacing them. We see automation enabling our people to move to higher value and more interesting work, leveraging their skills and delivering better customer outcomes.
"I don't like the term unconscious bias - whenever we have run training to combat it, there has been zero impact on behaviors. If anything, it has driven behaviors underground and they have become more nuanced, harder to call out and harder to solve for." - Rachel Higham
WOOL: Rachel, the role of the CIO has shifted along with the focus to digital. For someone who has been at the center of this transformation, how has the experience been? How has the role evolved and what new skills have you adopted?
RH Most organizations that are leveraging technology well are moving their CIO to report directly to the CEO. CIOs have a place at the executive table now. Most products and services have a technology component now so CIOs don't just set technology strategy.
CIOs are now expected to be thought leaders and nspiring communicators. They are no longer experts in networking or application development - rather generalists, understanding the potential impact and opportunity from technology advancements. They must scan the external mar - ket to bring in an outside perspective - how an organization's products and services should evolve, where new revenue streams and opportunities exist, where threats exist. That's a huge challenge for CIOs because they have to change their network of contacts, forge new cross-disciplinary partner - ships, encourage their teams to get out there, meet people and go to different conferences.
WOOL: It's not just CIOs - several traditional roles now have different demands. Do you think we are educating students to meet the evolving industry demands or is there a gap?
RH I think schools are struggling to keep up with the skills, mindsets and behaviors we need in young people joining our organizations. I think it's down to companies like ours to lean in. At BT, our volunteering effort is about building tech literacy and digital skills. We go to primary schools and help teachers better teach computer curriculums. We go to secondary schools and try to excite children to select STEM subjects and understand how technology plays a role in all industries. We put role models in front of students, talk to them about possible career journeys and share inspiring stories of the difference we can make by choosing STEM careers.
When I was young, we took clocks apart; I helped my dad fix our washing machine, VCR and car. You can't do that with an iPhone, you need a specialist for that. You can't explore the internal workings within the technology we con sume today, which means we can't use that to inspire children to be curious and ask questions. So industry leaders need to step in and build the excitement around subjects.
WOOL: It's quite a paradox - on one hand, there is a talent crunch, and on the other, there is almost an exodus when it comes to women (in tech companies) dropping out of the workforce.
RH It is, but there are actually two different problems to solve around women in the workforce, depending on which geography you are in.
In the UK and other western economies, the biggest problem is the lack of girls choosing STEM subjects, either in high school or as they go to university. Around 12% of computer science graduates in the UK are female, so we aren't building a diverse talent pipeline. When we do get them into organizations, we aren't seeing them progress as fast as their male colleagues. At BT we did deep research on why this was happening and found that a lack of confidence was a major cause. So we are doing something structurally in our organizations that erodes the confidence of women.
In India, we have great gender diversity on the intake, nearly 50% are women! But once they have children or shoulder the responsibility of looking after their parents, they drop out, feeling they can't balance their career and personal responsibilities. In response, we have a program that identifies role models from our own organization, who have achieved that balance, and have them share their stories. We also run a return to work program that engages with women who dropped out and brings them up to speed with changes that might help them should they decide to re-join the workforce.
"When I was young, we took clocks apart; I helped my dad fix our washing machine, VCR and car. You can't do that with an iPhone, you need a specialist for that. You can't explore the internal workings within the technology we consume today, which means we can't use that to inspire children to be curious and ask questions." - Rachel Higham
WOOL: While these efforts are internally focused, I read that investors prefer entrepreneurial pitchesfrom men 50% more than from women. How can one deal with such jarring unconscious bias?
RH There's a lot of research to show that women entrepreneurs are funded less; they have access to less than a tenth of the funding male entrepreneurs receive. I don't like the term run training to combat it, there has been zero impact on behaviors. If anything, it has driven behaviors underground and they have become more nuanced, harder to call out and harder to solve for. Frankly, I don't think these behaviors are unconscious; they are overtly conscious - a result of social, cultural and religious conditioning. Labels excuse them. We should call out inherent biases and solve for them, not apply labels and give them an excuse, have some training courses and believe it will change such deep-rooted behaviors.
WOOL BYTES WITH RACHEL HIGHAM
What is your one artificial intelligence driven fantasy?
That it will help us solve global health issues.
What is the best part of being CIO?
Each day is so different; the pace of change is energizing.
What quality do you most admire in a boss?
An inspiring communicator.
What's the first word that pops into your head when I say future of work?
Purposeful spending less time in meetings and moving around information and more time making an impact for our employees, customers and society.
You are a technologist. How do you unwind?
I get outdoors, go mountain biking, hiking, skiing and kayaking and never take my phone with me.
What's your favorite phone application?
Recommend a book
The Athena Doctrine by Michael D'Antonia and John Gerzma.
A quote that motivates you
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did, so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain.
Your top tips for someone suffering from stage fright
1. Think of your speech as a story you're telling. The audience won't notice a mistake because they don't know the story!
2. Get out of your head, focus on the physical - pause, breathe, balance over your feet, open your shoulders and smile at the audience.Purposeful spending less time in meetings and moving around information and more time making an impact for our employees, customers and society.
Your recommended TED talk?
Mileha Soneji's fabulous talk on Simple Hacks for Life with Parkinson's.