Seven Questions with IBM’s Inhi Suh
Welcome back to our Women in Tech blog series! As you may know, Aragon is gearing up for its second annual Women in Technology (WIT) Awards, so we are highlighting the extensive contributions of last year’s winners.
This interview with Inhi Suh, General Manager of Watson Customer Engagement at IBM, dives into AI for mitigating bias and her top book recommendations.
1. Please describe yourself in three words.
Authentic, strategic, and continuous learner.
2. What do you find most interesting about the technology field in which you work?
Technology constantly evolves. Whether it is programming models, business models, skills, roles—technology is forever changing on a continual basis. For example, ten years ago, no one really knew what big data was and the number of data scientists were limited to specialized industries. In today’s digital world, big data and even AI are part of everyday vocabulary. The most exciting aspect of AI is that we’re at the early stages of ideation and experimentation. There are new innovations in cloud, blockchain, quantum computing, cognitive chips, and more. This is why I love the technology space—it’s forever changing and evolving, and I am always learning.
3. How do you find work-life balance, or what do you enjoy outside of work?
I enjoy many things including traveling, eating, reading, music, and sports. What I cherish most in life are the relationships, both personal and professional. My quality of life is created by my family and friends and the opportunities to work with really intellectually curious and passionate people. Work-life balance is about ensuring you’re following through on the commitments you make to others and yourself. I’m far less worried about the actual quantity or volume of activities.
Become a parent. I love being a mom and it’s made me a better employee, manager, leader, citizen, and change agent because I am a mother. It helps me prioritize the things that matter most. You have to be realistic about the time demands. I knew I couldn’t take on the next level of advancement in my career without getting help from my parents. They retired early to help my husband and me raise our boys.
Take the time to reflect and set goals. Once a year, I reflect deeply on how I am evolving. What new skills, experiences, and relationships have I developed? How am I physically in terms of exercise, sleep, or stress? Where am I in my spiritual journey? How are my personal and professional relationships? When I do this reflection each year, I also use the opportunity to put some new goals in place, achievable milestones that are time-boxed. For example, if I’m not feeling healthy, I’ll box out more time for exercise for three months. If I’m not spending enough time with my family or friends, I proactively schedule time on the calendar. It’s also a good opportunity to think about group goals. What can we do collectively as a family to do better, or as a professional team to execute better going into the new year? An essential part of work/life balance is adjusting to the unexpected.
4. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
Maybe not the biggest challenge but a continuous challenge that I’ve encountered in my career is how to best advocate for a decision or a point of view that is not necessarily supported by the majority or management. It could be related to product direction, investment strategy, hiring of talent, or more. It’s a common theme, whether you’re a junior staff or new executive or even a CEO accountable to a board of directors. Layered in the challenge are biases of history, group think, fear, belief, metrics, and more. My advice is simple:
- Document your point of view.
- Find allies—socialize your ideas and gather support.
- Listen and understand the opposing points of view.
- Change the frame of the problem you’re trying to solve.
- Remain open to the possibility your position may change.
- Focus on shared outcome.
5. Are there enough opportunities for women in tech? How would you assess the progress women have made in the tech industry?
There’s not enough progress across the industry and in technical and business leadership positions. There should be more. People have the ability to reason and imagine future possibilities. Different people can look at the same problem and come to very different conclusions about the future. Women represent more than half the population entering universities today and post-graduation hires, yet they hold only 27% of IT jobs. Why wouldn’t we want more women participating in solving some of the world’s most complex problems and generating value in society and business? We need women in technology, business, and government—in every field—and with a voice.
6. What are some things you think should be addressed on macro, peer, and educational levels to encourage women to feel empowered in the tech industry?
Representation, role modeling, and preparation are important. Today, women hold 5% of CEO positions and 10% of board positions among the Fortune 500 companies. California just became the first state to require corporations headquartered in the state to include women on their boards to increase participation. IBM received the 2018 Catalyst Award for advancing women in leadership. Salesforce launched an equal pay initiative. These are strong institutional examples of progress. In addition, programs such as role modeling, mentoring, and development experiences are required to help women and other underrepresented groups to progress through their career journeys.
There are broader systemic issues—take for example unconscious bias which we’ve been talking more about in recent years. Related to this, we need to be mindful of developing trust in AI systems. More specifically, AI will reflect and propagate the unconscious bias of its programmers, teams, and organizations. However, if we are thoughtful about this, we can collectively, across the industry, build and adopt capabilities where AI can be a force for detecting and mitigating bias. It can be a force for good. Take for example, the positive way we can use AI to take out the bias in talent acquisition, development, and pay because of race, gender, education, or other biases. Another example is in the processing of loans, in which “risks” may be inaccurately assigned to applicants due to the lack of data on certain audience segments. You can learn more about what we’re doing to help mitigate bias with our AI OpenScale and AI Trust & Transparency capabilities.
7. Please provide a WIT call to action.
Educate yourself. The single best tool you will have within your arsenal that will advance your position and career is your knowledge. So, take the time to read, watch videos, take online classes, attend a seminar, and more. Here are some books I recommend:
- Covering by Kenji Yoshino
- The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
Learn and share together, not alone. That’s the power of a network.
- Find your voice by iterating with others. Ask questions, share your knowledge, and co-create with others.
- Find a mentor for yourself and become a mentor for someone else. Pay it forward.
- Develop great diverse candidates for your own succession planning and help others who may not realize they need help.
And remember, there is more than enough room for all of us. We can all advance and make the world of technology and business a better place as a result.