Europe, Interviews

Moojan Asghari – Co-founder at Women in AI

There are not enough women in tech since we have a wrong idea of tech in our minds.

Born in Iran and based in Paris, Moojan is a passionate entrepreneur, an advocate for women’s rights and a true believer in entrepreneurship. She is the co-founder of Women in AI, which is a global non profit organisation on the mission to close the gender gap in AI by educating the youth.

She has been ranked as Top 10 Pioneering Women in AI and Machine Learning in 2019 by Enterprise Management 360, 4 inspiring women who count in AI by ADN,19 Inspiring Women in AI, Big Data, Data Science, Machine Learning by Kdnuggets. She has been an adviser to ARCEP on the future Technologies, Unesco and European Parliament on Gender Diversity and Inclusion in AI. 

In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?

I’m running a non-profit organisation which is called Women in AI. We operate on a voluntary basis. My job is to motivate women in getting into the field of Artificial Intelligence, find ways to help them to unleash their potential and to get to the front line. Our core team is a small one and therefore we need to augment ourselves with using different technologies and tools to automate our activities and handle our routines. Working in the Tech and AI field, I often receive requests to speak about various topics related to Bias in AI, diversity, inclusion and how AI impacts our lives.

It is essential to be up-to-date with the latest news and advancements of the technology, know how it is impacting our lives, and be able to share that with our community. At Women in AI we care a lot about Gender Balance and closing the gender gap in AI as a main part of our mission, and for me it is important to know how technologies contributed to such aspects. For instance how AI technologies impact jobs and how women’s jobs will evolve accordingly, how our personal data is treated, how health applications are trained by algorithms to fight with desease and how inclusive they are, or how facial recognition is deployed by governments.

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

I participated in many hackathons and startup weekends, and those where really good schools to me.

My professional journey started when I graduated from a business school in France and started an internship in investment banking. Soon I realised that I have a passion for tech and entrepreneurship. It took me a year and a half to finally leave finance and start my first tech company. But eventually this led me to know how fascinating is the tech industry and how fast it evolves. In the next 5 years, I started to study topics that was interesting to me, such as entrepreneurship, machine learning, robotics and internet of things. I participated in many hackathons and startup weekends, and those where really good schools to me.

Since then, I created 2 companies in the event industry, a conference to help local entrepreneurs in Iran, a fast prototyping acceleration program for startups in San Francisco and Taipei, a non-profit to help women in AI, and I’m now working on my next company to help women unleash their inner star.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

I would say remote working or work from home, or anywhere else. When I was in the bank, we needed to go to the same office at a specific time and couldn’t leave before a specific time, eventhough we had nothing else to do. Our work was very much paper based and we had mental and operational needs to meet face to face with our colleagues. Today I’m travelling almost 60% of the time and need to work from different airports, hotels and co-working places with different time zones.

I think remote working has become a trend in recent years and companies have also started to see the benefits of it for themselves and their employees. Of course it is more common in the tech sector compared to banking or more regulated industries, but even those more strict ones also have started to value remote working, especially when we have world wide crisis such as Pandemics like Covid19 that shut down many companies and forced them to find ways to work from home.

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

So why not having more women to have more revenue, efficiency, ethics and equity. This is totally logical.

Lack of representation, but also an opportunity. I believe that women are under represented in Tech because of various factors, but I also see women as great potentials to a change in our world. Including the other half of the population in an industry where women represent only around 15% of it, is a great opportunity, especially when so many reports show that even those few seats taken by women result in higher performances for those companies and projects with more diversity.  So why not having more women to have more revenue, efficiency, ethics and equity. This is totally logical and if I were an investor or a government leader, I would see more women in tech equal to better economy and society, and therefore I would invest in having more women in tech.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that? Using your own words, why do we need women focused groups in the tech community?

There are not enough women in tech since we have a wrong idea of tech in our minds. Most people see tech as a dirty, hard, or too complex area that is not made for women, who are supposed  to be gentle, emotional, soft and have to look after kids. These are our world’s clichés. We all are biased and live in a biased world. We are made by our thoughts and values transfered to us by our parents, teachers, and our society. We are very much influenced by what the media feed us.

For instance, in the years where we had huge computers there was no difference between a man or a woman to use those machines. But when the personal computers came into the market, the media advertised them as men’s tools. That’s how they put this idea in our mind that all gamers, coders and geeks, working with PC should be boys and women naturally got distant from this specific “boy’s toy”.

Instead they commerciales Barbies for girls. We took the confidence from girls by not giving them the “right” to do things that a boy can do, since we already labeled “things boys can do, things girls can do”. We told to our boys be strong, be like a man, be a leader, don’t cry. We told girls don’t speak loud, don’t go alone to places, wear a skirt and sit like a lady, give milk to your baby doll and take care of it like a mother.

Knowing our biased history and the impact of labelling our kids, we can understand where we went wrong and try to fix it.

Knowing our biased history and the impact of labelling our kids, we can understand where we went wrong and try to fix it. By creating focused groups for women and talking about the importance of women in tech, we first break those wrong beliefs, and second, we create a safe zone to let women explore their potential and regain the confidence that was taken from them over time by the environment.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Bias. Nationalism, sexism, racism. Basically anything that puts a lable on me and others and that creates an invisible wall between us. If we all humans would see eachother as equals and pairs, we wouldn’t have all the conflicts and issues that we have today everywhere in the world. If we would see ourselves as a whole, we wouldn’t destroy our planet as we are doing today that each nation is over-exploiting the resources, since maybe others have done that centuries ago, or consider that as their natural right.

I think we humans can be very biased when it comes to facing our differences. If we look at the Earth from space, we don’t see any line, any wall or border between countries. We only see a beautiful blue planet with all the people that we ever known living on it. I think if anyone sees our planet from space and look back to the Earth, their whole perspective of life would change. If I could, I would give this opportunity to anyone to go to space and look back to our planet.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

I definitely start with my mom, who for me has been my biggest role model, the symbol of persistence, hope, sacrifice and ambition. She is one of the best charismatic leaders that I’ve ever seen who can see through your soul, know your strengths and weaknesses and push you to do the best of you.

I had been also very lucky to have had so many mentors starting from my family, to my music teachers, my French teacher, my boss, my friends, my co-founders, and even people who never got to know me but I knew and appreciated them like Elon Musk, Anousheh Ansari, Richard Branson, Turia Pitt, Opra Winfrey, and Murakami. They all have contibuted to the person who I am today, expanded my vision, put ideas in my head and made me to go after my dreams.

What advice would you give to women who want a tech career?

Dream big, don’t surrender to difficulties, go after challenges, don’t stop learning. Unfortunately the tech industry is still a very masculine environment, with many cases of sexual harassment and abusive behavior toward women. However, it is getting better with more investments in gender diversity and regulations by governmental and institutional organisations to oblige companies act on those terms. You should be aware of these issues and don’t let such things stop you from seeking for higher positions. Stay ambitious, and focused on what you want to create. Think of the next generstion and how you will change their lives as well. This is what makes me move forward everyday in my work.

Moojan Asghari, born in Iran and based in Paris, is a passionate entrepreneur, an advocate for women’s rights and a true believer in entrepreneurship. She is the co-founder of Women in AI, which is a global non profit organisation on the mission to close the gender gap in AI by educating the youth.

She has been ranked as Top 10 Pioneering Women in AI and Machine Learning in 2019 by Enterprise Management 360, 4 inspiring women who count in AI by ADN,19 Inspiring Women in AI, Big Data, Data Science, Machine Learning by Kdnuggets. She has been an adviser to ARCEP on the future Technologies, Unesco and European Parliament on Gender Diversity and Inclusion in AI. 

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