Episode Flyer for #51: What Companies Need to Know About Diversity and Technology
Episode Flyer for #51: What Companies Need to Know About Diversity and Technology

Guest: Sandy Carter        Guest Title: Chairman of the Board

Date: March 25, 2017            Guest Company: Girls In Tech              


[Intro music]


Debra: Hello this is Debra Ruh and you are listening to Human Potential at Work. Today my guest is somebody that I’ve been a fan of her work for many, many years and I’m really, really excited to have her on the program today. Her name is Sandy Carter and Sandy has so many awards and accolades that I actually have to pick and choose what I’m going to talk about. For example, Sandy was recognized by CNN as one of the top ten women in technology. She was 2016 Forbes Digital Influencer. She was top number 3 influencer at SXSW and her presentation was rated number 3; very exciting behind two men. Just, as a woman, very proud of her. She also is an author of many books. Her latest book, which we’re actually going to talk about on the program today, is called Extreme Innovation and it’s already rated 47th on Kindle Books- so very exciting. Sandy was formerly with (and probably very well known for) IBM for many years. She has her own company now that’s called Silicon Blitz and they really focus on innovation through technology like AI, bots, VR and ecosystems and diverse teams. So my audience will understand why I am so excited to have Sandy on the program. Sandy, welcome to the program.


Sandy: Debra, thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here and thank you for all that you’re doing. You’re making a big difference in the world.


Debra: Aw, thank you. It’s very exciting to get to do work that really changes people’s lives and I know we’ve both done that. Sandy, I know that you’re considered a leading pioneer in the digital business revolution (and I love digital) and there are so many articles that have been written about you. One article I was reading was saying that Sandy Carter was a driving force of innovation at IBM for the last decade and those are powerful words. I know that you’ve been very focused on making sure that women are included in conversations and you’re supporting developing countries and women in tech and STEM and- tell us more about your work. I as a woman thank you so much for the work you’re doing to make sure that we’re all included in this digital revolution.


Sandy: Debra, I think this is a great question. Let me just start out by talking about a little bit of research that I just did with Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley. We reached out to about 2,000 female founders and we were looking at why are female founders so successful but not getting funded.


Debra: Right.


Sandy: In fact the numbers show that female founders are actually 15% more profitable but 40% less likely to get funded. So that kinda doesn’t compute and one of the big things that we found, one of the top three “ah-ha”s from that study with Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, was that women don’t feel as comfortable with the technology and most of the higher multiples and most of the investment today is done with companies who rely on and embed technology inside of them. And in particular the technologies today that are getting the most investment are artificial intelligence and bots, virtual reality, internet of things, blockchain and these were the places that women felt the least comfortable. And so part of what I’ve been doing in the last six months is really figuring out- how can we empower women to understand enough about the technology? I know we’re not going to make everybody an engineer or computer scientist, but how do we give them enough information and enough data to empower them to use that technology in their businesses, in their careers, in their corporate lives? And so for me a lot of the work I’ve been doing on digital is obviously showcasing in companies that I work for, how digital so greatly enhances your competitiveness and then taking the time to educate women on these technologies. So for instance, there was a big conference just this week called Professional Businesswomen of California. About 7,000 women come.


Debra: Wow.


Sandy: And myself, a women from X (which used to be called Google X), Salesforce and from a company called TopBot, we all were on a panel (I was moderating) and we’re giving women- just take these five technologies and understand them enough. And my favorite thing, Debra, was that at the end a lady stood up and said, “I am so empowered. I am not afraid of these technologies I can see what they’re doing and now I can take that next step forward.” And that’s really what I’m trying to accomplish. Both by showcasing the value in a business because you got to make it real and then taking the time to educate and bring everybody along the ride with us.


Debra: And you know, Sandy, I think that- once again, love what you’re doing- as a woman, and a woman in technology, and a woman entrepreneur for many years, I was discouraged as I watched some of the political happenings over the last few years and the conversations that were being had about women. I sort of- like a lot of women, I felt a little discouraged and I thought, “You know what, I thought we had come so much further.” Even though I know a lot of the statistics. As an entrepreneur that in the past has tried to get funding and successfully got investor funding, I know how difficult it is for women and the way we pitch ourselves as opposed to the way a man will pitch themselves- very different. I know that a lot of the corporate boards have very, very few women on their corporate boards. Mainly, it’s men; and the discrepancy in pay and things like that. But having women and girls in STEM- the science the technology the engineering the mathematics- I think is so important for the world. I recently started seeing the commercials,and I’m going to forget who did the commercial, but there are three or four young girls and they’re talking about how they’re going to change the world. One’s going to cure cancer because her mother had breast cancer. One is going to make sure we all have clean drinking water. There are these very smart young women and then they proceed to say well the number of women and girls that go into STEM-type university courses the numbers are so small. Then the young girls are like, “I don’t care it’s not going to stop me, I’m doing it.” I think the work of women like you- and I know you sit on the board of Girls in Technology and Women in Technology International. I also love that you were honored twice by the AIT United Nations as the member of the year for helping developing countries in the area of technology. I love what technology has the ability to do for all of us, but as somebody that really cares about the community of people with disabilities; innovation, technology can change the lives of people with and without disabilities. And so I think it’s really interesting that not only are you focusing on the technology and how we have to understand this technology and talk about it and how women need to be a very powerful part of these conversations, but the ecosystems and the diverse teams. I’m looking at the diverse teams from the perspective of all of us being included. I think that’s unique, Sandy. I’m not seeing that happening. Usually I see these conversations but they’re happening separately. Why, Sandy, are you having these conversations together? And thank you.


Sandy: Yeah, I think it’s right now is an interesting time. Let’s just take artificial intelligence and bots. In order to train the software because artificial intelligence is self-learning software- in order to get the base training into the software a team, a corpus of knowledge, trains the software. And so if you think about that, that is a really impactful statement. And it’s bigger and broader than ever before, the linkage between innovation, tech, and diversity, because the team training the software. If that team is biased then the software is now biased. Whereas before you used software and so you could incorporate many different viewpoints in it. With artificial intelligence, that training and learning is embedded inside. So to me, right now, this is such an important topic. It is really a bellwether for a company’s future. You know, if you look at Pricewaterhouse Coopers they said that 93% of CEOS think the only way their company can grow is through innovation and their top choice of technology is AI. So if a diverse team doesn’t do the training then you’re going to get the wrong results. Let me give you a couple of examples. One is a company called Mattel (Barbie) and one of the number one things that little girls want is they want their Barbie doll to talk to them. And Mattel actually did an amazing job on conversational AI. They had Barbie be able to answer questions about outer space and about red dust on Mars. That is awesome but one of the areas that they didn’t train Barbie so well on was careers. So if you had bought a Barbie doll and you said, “Wow I want to be a data scientist.”, like my youngest daughter, Barbie would not say, “Oh, that’s great. There’s so many careers there.” Barbie would say, “Well, what about fashion?”


Debra: [laughs]


Sandy: And why is that? Well the team that trained Barbie to have these conversations thought that well most young women would be teachers or fashion or beauty. Right? and so that’s the answer.

Debra: So male teams. Not making fun of males, but- so a lot more males.


Sandy: Yeah. and so we’ll do another one. There’s a group called Beauty.AI. They wanted to have a beauty contest that was judged by artificial intelligence. And so what they did was train the computer to recognize beauty. And they would show pictures of beauty queens. So they trained, right? Again, a team trained and when they released the contest they had 6,000 women from all over the world who submitted to be a part of this beauty contest judged by bots and AI. Well, when they picked 44 winners, the interesting thing was that- no, I think there was maybe one woman of color.


Debra: Wow.


Sandy: Well, why is that? Because the person who trained the artificial intelligence software had an unconscious bias. They were feeding the computer pictures of their ideal of beauty which happened to be women that were white.


Debra: Right.


Sandy: I’ll give you one more: virtual reality. Virtual reality, a lot of times embeds artificial intelligence inside of it. As will most technology going forward. So if you look at the way virtual reality is done with headsets, you tend to get a little dizzy and nauseous. They’ve been working on that. But they’ve really been working on it with a set of training for men and I just learned from doctors that the way that women and men get nauseous is actually different. So the AI has been trained now on that. So just examples that show that this is so important right now that we have diverse teams that are training these AI systems and that’s a role in technology.


Debra: Well, that is powerful. Those are such powerful examples and things that I’m sure, as these teams were training this AI, they certainly weren’t trying to leave people out. It was just accidental. But these are the times that we can actually change society. As we are going through these major innovation changes in society, I think this is the time that we can start training the AI to not just assume that a woman has to be of a certain weight or a certain skin color to be a beauty queen and the way we decide beauty. I look at beauty so differently, I think, than a lot of people. I’m sure you do as well, Sandy. And I’ll say, also, as I’ve evolved as a human being that my idea of beauty has changed as well but those are fascinating examples. That’s probably why your talk at South by Southwest was rated number three. I would have really loved to see that presentation but that’s very exciting. Yeah, go ahead.


Sandy: We can link this into something that I think is really hot and happening right now. There is this whole trend right now for companies to release their diversity report. You know, much like companies have had to validate their corporate finances, these diversity reports are showcasing diversity and hopefully inclusion as well.

Debra:           Right.


Sandy: And there is a big question right now that’s out in Silicon Valley: is there an expectation that tech companies should do this as well? And I very much am on the side that with the explosive growth of these technologies- VR, AI, bots- that tech companies must have that diversity of thought and that if you’re a shareholder than this needs to be a functional requirement. Because it not only demonstrates a nice to have, in my mind it demonstrates whether the company will have profitable innovation in the right way moving forward and it represents an excellent opportunity for women or other diverse leaders to drive the future of not only tech, but the direction these companies go. So in my mind, today’s modern tech makes it even more crucial for tech companies to release these diversity reports that I think are so important in the overall scheme of things.


Debra: I agree, Sandy. I’ve been in diversity workshops and the facilitator will say, “What is made up of diversity?” and all the different groups start getting thrown out and I sat in one and nobody mentioned disabilities. And I sat there just listening to see how long it was going to take for somebody in this packed room to include disability and it didn’t happen. So when they were about to close down I raised my hand and said it and people were like “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.” I like the way you are talking about diversity because diversity- if we look at it almost the old way of thinking and you start breaking people into groups, I think that’s very difficult for corporations to really embrace it and really get their hands around it. And I often find that when you’re talking about these diverse groups and you’re going in and only speaking to the diversity parts of the business, usually I don’t see that they have a lot of resources, a lot of support from upper management; resources- monetary and human capital. And so I really don’t think it’s the way to do it. I think the way you’re doing it, making it part of the conversations that the companies they really need to have. If I’m a technology company and I’m really focused on AI and I’m not thinking about it from “the diversity opportunity”- I guess that’s a good way of saying it, the “diversity opportunity”- then I’m not going to have as much success than if I did. And I often think when you’re talking about people with disabilities, which is my topic that I love to talk about, just because a person was born with a disability or has acquired a disability in their life because we are in these human bodies doesn’t mean we can’t add value to these technology conversations and these innovation conversations. As a matter of fact, I believe that many people with disabilities, especially technologists with disabilities, bring a real unique mindset to these conversations because they’ve had to travel a different path than somebody without a disability because inherently the world is usually not very accessible to somebody that is deaf, or somebody that’s in a wheelchair, or somebody that’s blind, or somebody that acquires a mental health disability, or a traumatic brain injury. But at the same time, we’re now using different parts of our brain so there’s such an opportunity to include these people in these diversity conversations and really empower what society could look like with the AIs and the bots and the VRs and thinking about it from the ecosystems and truly from the real true diversity of teams. I think we could change everything if we continue to have these conversations in the right way. Which is why, once again, your work is so important because you actually have a lot of people’s attention because of everything you bring to the table.


Sandy: Yeah, I think that you’re absolutely right and from the study I had done with Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley one of the things that came up was a lot of men, and we need men, by the way-


Debra: Yes.


Sandy: to change the conversation, we have to include 100%. We can’t be exclusive we’ve got to be inclusive. And a lot of men when they hear the word diversity they actually feel alienated, right? “This is not about me.”


Debra: Right.


Sandy: It’s really interesting because there are so many different kinds of diversity but they don’t feel part of it. So I started talking about this concept called cognitive diversity- difference of thought. With one company I was talking to, they had a gender mix and a racial mix but everybody on the team came from one school. So is that cognitive diversity? Probably not. because they were trained by one school and so when you start thinking about this broader than just gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or people with disabilities, or without and you start thinking the reason we want the diverse team is because people are bringing a different perspective- a different viewpoint to the table. Then you start feeling more inclusive as you talk about diversity. And so I’m trying this out right now, Debra, and so far it seems like I’m getting more acceptance from a lot of guys out there. In fact, if any of our listeners- I would love your opinion as well because I do want this to be very inclusive. I even look at numbers and I know that dads of daughters impact not only their daughters but they have a bigger impact at work on women’s issues for instance. And so I want men to be part of the equation here and I don’t want to exclude them or make them feel awkward so I would love feedback on using that term “cognitive diversity” to be more inclusive in the way we talk about it and the way we action it as well.


Debra: I think that is such a really important point. As I watched all the diversity groups and being part of a diversity group focused on the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Early on I started thinking, “Well, who does this work?” So include LGBT, include women, include African Americans, and I started thinking well the only group that’s left out are the white males, which I’m married to one of those white males. [laughs] I have a son that’s a white male. So you’re right. So often I think we have these good intentions and then we wind up still leaving out these large groups of people and that’s not the right answer. And so I love the “cognitive diversity”. I’m trying to really change people’s minds about a person that has a disability, whether it’s visible or not- what they bring to the table, what they bring to the workforce, what they bring to society. I’m just trying to propose  a different way of doing things and I see some companies coming up with other names. One name that’s popular right now, been getting popular with a large company is “diversability”.


Sandy: Hm.


Debra: And I thought, “Ok. That’s interesting. Alright.”, but I like your term better because I know before we liked the term “handicapped” in the United States, for example, which is still used quite frequently in other countries. Then we decided as a country, “No, no, no we don’t like that term. We’re going to use the term ‘disability’.” because I think we care. I think the they’re good intentions, but we’re always trying to change the words to try to change as society is changing. And so I like “cognitive diversity” because immediately you realize, “Oh, then nobody is being left out”. Even if I’m a person like my daughter. I have a daughter that was born with Trisomy 21 (referred to as Down Syndrome, often) and cognitively she does have a disability but at the same time she’s very very clever when it comes to technology. She’s more clever than I am when it comes to technology and she’s a clever artist. She’s like the rest of us. She’s a multidimensional human being that has real strengths and she also has real weaknesses. I’m the same way and you probably are too, Sandy.


Sandy: Yeah, that’s right.
Debra: Figuring out how we have the conversations without scaring off groups. There is no value in leaving all the men out of this conversation. Certainly no value in leaving out the Caucasian men out of the conversations. But at the same time, the amount of males working in technologies as opposed to women, just women in general- it’s really staggering. So I think, once again, we need leaders like you having these conversations to talk about how important innovation is, but sometimes when we’re talking about how important innovation is people hear it and say, “Oh, oh, oh so what you’re saying is Artificial Intelligence is going to take my job away from me?”. That’s what I’m hearing and I’ve seen a lot about that. I’m a big fan of driverless cars and I’m a fan of it for a lot of reasons. I have a Subaru Outback that I bought recently and it’s a partially driverless car. It tells me when I’m going over the double yellow line more often than I should. It tells me if there is a car in my blindspot. It will actually stop the car if I don’t brake fast enough so I don’t hit the car in front of me. I’m embarrassed to say it’s taken control of my car twice and I haven’t had many accidents in my life, but I take a lot of comfort in the safety features that are really actually driverless features. A driverless car would be amazing for my daughter because she is not ever going to drive a car. It is not in anybody’s best interest for her to get a driver’s license. And we have to know, cognitively, what we can and can’t do, but also as we age. I know my husband, who is a man of a certain age now, does not feel comfortable driving at night because he’s got such bad night vision now. And he also has floaters on his eyes as he’s aged, which gets very common and he’s not comfortable. So a driverless car would provide such benefit to the aging of the world and certainly the aging of America where 78 million baby boomers are starting to age into not being able to drive as well. But when I’ve talked about this I’ve actually had people come out and say very negative things about the technology: “Oh, yeah, but it’s going to put all these people out of business”. How do we balance that, Sandy? How do we balance the fears of innovation and technology with the inclusion of human beings and diversity and all of those things.


Sandy: Yeah, you know I think anything has the power to be used for good or evil and so I do see there’s always things you can do with AI that can be not positive for everyone- for sure. I think what we need to do is, we need to make sure that we’ve got- and I know there are groups forming- to make sure that the technology is used for good and that when we transition, maybe a group of jobs with AI that there is a way that we do that in the right human factor, right? That human-to-human factor as well. I just think that the power of what the potential is- like you said with the self-driving car for your daughter. I just was at a company where they’re using VR to simulate, so people can really have empathy about different types of diversity.

Debra: Wow.


Sandy: So when you’re using VR your mind actually learns. Your mind is almost tricked into thinking it really happened. In one of the cases, in training on diversity and inclusion, I went into a room as a black woman and I could see and feel how others perceived me, which I had never imagined before and that learning is embedded inside your brain. I know your passion is, Debra, disability. Wouldn’t that be interesting to train executives on how it would feel to have a person that does have- maybe they can’t see or they can’t hear or they have a mobility challenge? Just so people really get it because innovation is born of empathy.


Debra: Right. Right.


Sandy: If you think about it, the center of innovation is empathy for a person: a customer, a potential customer. That’s where innovation is born. And so using VR with AI to do that is so powerful. Again, I don’t have an answer to the other piece. Will there be some jobs that are enhanced with AI and bots? Absolutely. Will there be some jobs, eventually, that may be taken over? It may be, but if we manage that in the right way it may actually be more advantageous for us.


Debra: See I agree. I know that with the U.S.’s recent POTUS experience, there were promises made that we’ll bring back the steel jobs and the coal and things like that and I think some of those promises are going to be hard to deliver on and instead, I think we should be thinking about what jobs will be there in the future and how do we train and retrain people that need to work and want to work. Whether they are a person with a disability or anybody else. How do we make sure that people are trained to do the jobs that are out there? I think that’s a bigger opportunity that we need to explore instead of making technology the enemy. I’ve been in technology forever and my father was in technology before us, but I remember many years ago (I’m telling my age) I was at a bank and the software program that we use they were moving away from- mainframes to PCs. So definitely telling my age there. I remember an executive vice president said to me, “Call up the software company and tell them to stop that.” I just looked at her and I wasn’t sure what to say because you can’t stop technology. You can’t stop innovation. You can’t stop it. [laughs] It’s going to happen.


Sandy: Yeah.


Debra: Yeah, so you’ve got to really figure out how we can evolve with it. So much has happened since then but I will never forget the conversation. She actually had me tongue-tied, which is unusual. [laughs] And, at the time, probably unusual to have an executive vice president that was a woman in the bank. Now it’s more common to have women in technology and leadership roles. I just think that your work is very powerful and I’m very very grateful for the work you’re doing, Sandy. I know you have some exciting announcements coming up in the future and I’m really looking forward to sharing your exciting journey with our listeners but tell us more about how we can find out about your company about your new book, the books you have, tell us more. And also I know you have a podcast and that you’re building that up and will have a podcast in the future. You’ve already had a couple of episodes but tell our listeners how to find out more about Sandy Carter.


Sandy: Yeah, thank you, Debra. I have a website, it’s SandyCarter.net- you can find out some information there. I would love for you guys to consider my book. It’s Extreme Innovation and if you go to ExtremeInnovationbook.com, you’ll be taken directly to the site. Download a Kindle. Read it. Tell me what you think. The reason I’m so passionate about that book is that I think that this is a moment of change in time in the way that we innovate. And every company- every person- whether you’re a salesperson or marketer, you need to know how to leverage technology and ecosystems or partnerships and build your diverse teams. It needs to happen now. And, Debra, one of the ways I used to describe this is a brain teaser that I love which is about a pond with lily pads on it and the brain teaser goes like this: If everyday the number of lily pads on the pond double, (so day 1 it’s one, day 2 it’s two, day 3 it’s four) because it’s doubling, so two times two is four. What day is the pond half-full if it’s full on day 60?


Debra:  [laughs]


Sandy: And of course the answer is 59 because on 59 the pond will double and it will be full on day 60. So why do I use that as an example? I think that we are sitting, Debra, on day 59. And many people are looking at the pond and they’re saying, “Oh, it’s only half-full of lily pads. I don’t need to get diversity yet. I don’t really need to understand AI yet. I don’t really need to do partnerships yet. ” But what’s gonna happen is on the very next day, there’s not gonna be any time: the pond is going to be full.


Debra: Right.

Sandy: And so I’m doing my very best to let people know: you need to consider diversity. Now it’s going to impact your innovation. You need not to be afraid of the technology. You need to learn it and you need to embrace it and that’s why I wrote the book. I wanted to share some of my findings from what I’m seeing in Silicon Valley and Israel and India (kind of the three hubs of innovation). I wanted to share that so people aren’t sitting there on day 59 looking at the pond saying, “I have a lot of time.”


Debra: [laughs]


Sandy: And then the very next day they’re slammed [claps once] and it’s too late. ExtremeInnovationbook.com.


Debra: And I agree. I absolutely agree and one thing I’ve noticed in the brands, the large brands, that I work with. At first, when we were talking about including people with disabilities as customers, as testers, as employees- all the different parts- we were really having more charity and compliance conversations and I remember as that unfolded for years I thought, “This doesn’t make sense to me.”. so then I started having more innovation type conversations and that’s when things shifted. I love the example you gave. It’s day 59. It’s day 59 and we can’t pretend anymore that it’s just us. It’s just- let’s say- the United States and nobody else. Nope. Nope. There’s a world out there. I agree with you I see a lot of innovation coming from Israel and India and other countries and a lot of innovation coming from the US, of course, as well. But it’s these conversations: the ecosystems, the diversity, all of the technology, the changing the way we do things as a society so that more people can be included so we all can contribute to the healing of the world, the innovation. I’m looking forward to reading your book and giving you a review. I’m really looking forward to it because I think it really is all about extreme innovation and it is about inclusion of all of us and all of us getting on board and working together. So, Sandy, thank you so very much for your work. I’m very excited for you. You’ve accomplished so much and I think that you have so much more to accomplish and so I wish you a lot of luck in this next phase and I look forward to talking to you again, too. So thank you so much, Sandy.


Sandy: Debra, thank you. It’s such an honor to be here. Keep doing your great job. Keep out there and letting people listen to these ideas, and if you’re listening don’t just be a listener- get engaged. Reach out to Debra, reach out to myself. Take some action even if you think it’s small, it all matters. Thank you.


Debra: I agree. Thank you, well said. Thank you so much, Sandy.


[outro music]


You’ve been listening to Human Potential at Work with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization visit RuhGlobal.com. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and you want to make sure that you don’t miss any future epsiodes, go to itunes and subscribe to Human Potential at Work. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.