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Aug 13, 2020

AI Academy holds ‘Women in AI APAC Forum 2020’ in partnership with Microsoft and SLASSCOM

Artificial Intelligence is poised to change and enhance every aspect of life and women have a significant role to play in shaping the future that will be driven by technology. Given the relevance of the topic and shared beliefs, the Artificial Intelligence Academy Colombo joined with Microsoft APAC to present the “Women in AI APAC Forum 2020”, co-hosted with SLASSCOM, which was successfully held on the 30 July, as a virtual event. 

The distinguished speakers who are carrying leading roles at Microsoft included General Manager Sook Hoon Cheah, Southeast Asia New Markets General Manager Renee Lo, Data and AI Asia Director Annie Matthews, APAC Developer Relations Product Marketing Manager Anne Fernando, Modern Workplace Developer Marketing Manager Shubangi Gupta. 

The session was moderated by Artificial Intelligence Academy Co-founder and Managing Director Lin Gong-Deutschmann. The discussion of the forum was built on the basis that whether in education, work or leadership gender equality and parity has become a global imperative. 

Gong-Deutschmann added, “The pandemic has created urgency for all industries to re-imagine their business and operation through digital transformation. Ensuring gender parity is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for companies to embrace the new digital economy and continue to grow.”

“We have to grow the talents from the bottom through the right awareness and education while ensuring there is equal representation in field that will lead the change we will all experience in the near future”

The gender gap in the work-force and particularly in leadership positions has been a subject to scrutiny for many years and although progressed significantly, there is a considerable variation among countries.  A study by Peterson Institute for International Economics shows while there is a higher female representation in European countries, the women leadership is rather low in Asia; the average below 10% and many countries lower than 5%.

The gender gap also differs across industries, ICT is one of the industries with the lowest share of women. A look into the future job market is also not very comforting; according to a study on gender gaps conducted by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with LinkedIn, only 22% of AI professionals are women and in machine learning, women represent just 12% of leading researchers.

Many reports and data prove and quantify the benefits of closing the gender gap. 

Research shows that by changing the share of women in leadership positions (CEO, board, and C-suite) from 0-30%, it results in a 15% boost in profitability. Standing true to this, through their own personal growth and journeys, the eminent speakers shared insights and advice on how to navigate the changing landscape of work and life in general as a woman in the technology industry. 

Opening the forum Sook Hoon Cheah, echoed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s saying on how 2 years of digital transformation is now happening in two months, due to the acceleration forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She highlighted the significant role digital technologies are playing in thriving in this dynamic world and painted the macro picture of the future job market and the digital diversity it entails. She explained the need to fill in the future talent gap as 75% of the world’s fastest growing occupations call for STEM skills.  

She added that most women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the job qualifications and how it doesn’t have to be the case as 65% of students today will do jobs that don’t even exist yet, and the important skill is to develop a continuous learning mindset.

Renee Lo, as a leader in the Data and AI field, spoke in depth about how AI is truly a transformative technology and it will amplify human ingenuity in so many ways and how it is up to us to grab the chance and be part of it. 

She shared insightful applications of AI in everyday life and the explosion of AI breakthroughs from Microsoft over the last couple of years, sharing how technology has evolved in preparing for new ways of living and also creating new ways of living and the added value women bring into this through the important traits inherent in women, and experience through the multiple roles women play – as a wife, mother, daughter, employee etc. 

She urged women to be bold and brave and step into this field as we need to look like the world, to build for the world. 

Encouraging those who are not from a strong technology background, Anne Fernando shared her journey at Microsoft, showing how anyone can contribute and be a part of digital technology. Coming from the modern workplace arm of Microsoft, she shared how AI plays a role in improving productivity and efficiency in daily life of an employee – especially today as many around the world have switched to remote working and dynamic working models.

Sharing her own journey and key values she personally follows – being brave, being curious, and asking for help when needed, she reiterated the importance of a growth and learning mindset in bringing one to the top even in initially unfamiliar sectors. 

Addressing the millennial, Shubhangi Gupta added that the importance of developing STEM skills to remain relevant in a technology driven future is such that every sector in the future will be running with AI, with 91% of enterprises planning on integrating AI in the next 3 years and 37% having already started working on their AI strategies for the next year. 

However, 54% identified their biggest barrier being the lack of skills. By sharing her journey of pursuing education in the STEM field, she emphasised that some understanding of this technology will open up new opportunities to those stepping into the job market and coupled with the right role models and mentors, are bound to succeed and lead. 

Annie Mathews added to the forum by sharing some initiatives taken in encouraging women to actively participate in this conversation through many of the communities built around the topic of Women in Tech at Microsoft. 

She also reiterated the importance of lifelong learning which is not just for women, but everyone who wants to succeed in the future. She shared the efforts taken by Microsoft to encourage this amongst their employees but also the general public through the certifications and courses made available and accessible to all. 

She added, “This is the time that all this is out there for everybody to take these opportunities and keep learning and up-skilling, and we definitely need more women making use of these opportunities too. While there are lots of efforts’ being taken, there’s a lot more to do.”

“Men have a role to play in this as well, especially those in hiring positions to look back at their teams with a lens of diversity as it does in fact add value to business growth.  Finally a call out to everyone to connect, network and grow with us and let women support women in this field”

The Forum was attended by participants from 12 countries in the region including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, Singapore, and UAE – across different industries and sectors such as in IT, Marketing and Sales, HR, Engineering, Finance and more. 

The audience also ranged from students to C-level business leaders and professionals. The forum called upon the audience to engage, collaborate and connect by writing to on thoughts, ideas and initiatives to steer this conversation forward. 

Additionally, the AI Academy Colombo offers undergraduate education and professional training courses in the field of Artificial Intelligence, and aims to meet local and global market demands in this sector and prioritise technology based education in driving faster economic growth by creating a skilled resource pool for economic transformation. 

For more information on the AI Academy reach out on

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