IBM Watson announces 2021 Women Leaders in AI honorees

By and Carla Piñeyro Sublett | 3 minute read | March 18, 2021

Two women

To build trustworthy, unbiased and useful AI for a diverse population, we need diverse leadership in AI development. But today women represent just 26% of the data and AI workforce, according to the World Economic Forum, and gains in leadership are stalling across the board. As reported on International Women’s Day by the IBM Institute for Business Value, the percentage of women in top leadership roles has not improved between 2019 and today, and the percentage of women in the leadership pipeline has actually fallen. This makes it crucial to engage, train and promote more women in the industry, and to recognize the women who are already leading in AI. That’s the role of IBM’s Women Leaders in AI, which recognizes and celebrates women around the globe who are leading some of the most strategic applications of AI in business.

Today IBM is proud to announce 40 new Women Leaders in AI honorees. This year’s cohort represents 18 countries and 20 industries, applying AI to fields like customer support, accounting, cybersecurity and social services. We hope their achievements and contributions will inspire other women and students to pursue a career in AI so that they too can make a meaningful impact on shaping this still-nascent technology.

For example, take Manoela Morais, Chimka Munkhbayar and Helen Tsai, who with their team created the forecasting platform Agrolly. Built using Watson Studio, Agrolly helps farmers in developing countries plan crop production and minimize risks caused by extreme weather conditions. It provides tailored agricultural and weather information and crop-risk assessments, which farmers can use when securing financial assistance.

At Lloyds Bank, Ekaterina Ostankova was pivotal in implementing virtual assistant technology to handle the threefold spike in customer call volumes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. She helped analyze its capabilities and defined a roadmap for the virtual assistant to do more for customers in the near future. So far, more than 25% of customer inquiries are being addressed by the Watson solution.

And as Director of Machine Learning and Data Engineering for At Point of Care, Leah Karlin led the development of an AI solution to help clinicians get the latest healthcare information to address patients’ questions. The system uses Watson Discovery to ingest, analyze and convey complex, constantly changing drug information across tens of therapeutic areas. More than 200,000 healthcare professionals have used At Point of Care’s solution.

This year’s Women Leaders in AI honorees join those from 2020 and 2019, who have applied AI in myriad use cases: for example, better fraud detection through machine learning at Nedbank, under the direction of Chief Data Architecture and Operations Officer Patricia Maqetuka; improving emergency services for citizens with a Watson Care Manager application deployed under the Director of Innovation at the Sonoma County’s Information Systems Department, Carolyn Staats; and a customer care virtual assistant at Hong Kong and China Gas Company Ltd. under Corporate IT General Manager Susanna Shen.

Recognizing today’s AI leaders is just one part of a holistic program to support and increase diversity in the field. IBM also runs programs that build the next generation of AI professionals and helps them at every stage of their careers: P-TECH, a network of STEM-focused public schools, and awards no-cost associate degrees in technology fields. The IBM Tech Re-Entry Program helps tech workers refresh their professional and technical skills after time away. And the Be Equal campaign prompts leaders to pledge to prioritize inclusion in their hiring and management.

As stewards for ethical AI, we at IBM are also looking beyond our own business to shape an industry that must prioritize diverse voices and leadership. We’re proud to call these incredible women are our partners in that endeavor. We hope many more will follow in their footsteps.