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Maud Tournoud: I have always looked for meaningful applications of science. For my Ph.D. I studied the relationship between breastfeeding practices and mother-to-child HIV transition rate in Africa. Today, I’m investigating various AI solutions that address the challenges related to energy and resource efficiency. At first, as I started to apply this evolving technology, I was focused on ethical and responsible frameworks of AI, especially fairness. I quickly realized that it was not enough. To deliver value to the whole society, AI must also be diverse and inclusive.
The nightmare of the twenty-six percent threshold
I was lucky enough to graduate from one of the STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) majors. My first job was in the health sector, which was represented equally by both women and men. When I joined Schneider Electric one year ago, the company was expanding its AI Hub. Thanks to Schneider Electric’s commitment to gender equity and 100% leadership commitment to UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, I felt confident joining the AI team as a woman.
A recent report from Deloitte AI Institute states that only 26 percent of data and AI positions in the workforce are filled by women. But AI is not different from any other tech domain. Taking a wider look at the Women in STEM statistics, I read about 1 million newly created jobs in STEM worldwide over the last seven years. To my surprise, today the representation of women in these roles is, again, only 26%. The worst situation is in the engineering sector, where women constitute barely 12% of the total talent pool. What is the issue behind these numbers? I believe that gender diversity is important for developing trustworthy & fair AI applications, valuable for the whole society.
Two ways to empower women in tech
As a person with an engineering degree, I fully agree we need to double and triple the number of women in AI in the following years. The first way is to get the tech world closer to the young women. One of the Schneider Electric initiatives in France makes it possible for AI experts to go to junior high school to do a set of engineering activities with 11-14-year-old girls. This age is critical for educational choices that often settle the career direction. If we empower girls at this stage, they should be more confident to follow a tech career in the future.
The other way to empower women in tech is to mentor them along their careers. This year Schneider Electric became the official sponsor of the Women in AI (WAI) mentorship program. WAI is a nonprofit do-tank that empowers women and minorities to become AI and data experts, innovators, and leaders. They encourage ethical applications and responsible use of AI which was always the center of my interest.
Therefore, I volunteered as a mentor and was matched with Volha Litvinets, a senior consultant specializing in AI risk management and ethical AI. It was a valuable experience for both of us. Our solid thesis sounded: “You can’t do good AI without responsible AI”. In that spirit, we discussed ways of bringing AI to a high level of quality, responsibility, and trustworthiness used in a safe way. With my technical background and Volha’s social sciences point of view, we created a productive and symbiotic partnership that influenced positively on both sides. Here is how Volha reflected on the mentoring experience:
“Working in AI involves consistently navigating uncertainty, balancing fast-paced innovation, slow-changing regulation, and mitigating risks. Having Maud as a mentor was a significant asset for me – not only for validating my assumptions and gaining confidence but also for engaging in thought-provoking discussions at the intersection of data science and ethics. Additionally, AI remains a field where diversity is still an area for improvement.”Volha Litvinets
A manager does not mean a mentor
In the past, I did a lot of management. Nevertheless, the Women in AI mentorship opened my eyes and showed that being a mentor carries much more responsibility. It is not only about managing people but guiding them and not interfering much. Questions such as: “What do you think?” or “Can you tell me?” usually invite a straight response. However, the true value of such questions does not lie in answering them but in the mentor’s guidance itself. It’s a bit like being a wise wizard. When mentees ask for your advice, you just need to drop the odd pearl of wisdom, trusting they will find a way. Being a mentor is a unique opportunity to escape the managerial routine and practice something new and creative.
Mentorship: a safe space for you
For more than five months I was meeting with Volha, talking, and guiding her towards her goals. Today I don’t see it only as a series of meetings. This mentorship was a safe space that we created together. Working for different companies, we both knew the risk of talking with someone external. Nevertheless, we trusted ourselves, and respected confidentiality. That only strengthened our bond. Together, we created a friendly environment that favored our growth and helped us achieve our goals even faster.
It is true that mentoring will not solve the problem of the lack of women in STEM overnight. But initiatives like this change the perspective. With more women in AI, we ensure our future world is as we imagine – diverse and inclusive.
Learn more about embracing innovation and diversity at Schneider Electric.
Click to discover our initiatives and commitments to gender equity and inclusion of all.
About the author
Maud Tournoud, Senior Data Science Manager
After 15 years in in-vitro diagnostic company, Maud joined Schneider Electric in 2022 as a senior data science manager in the AI Hub, in Grenoble. Maud is deeply interested in responsible AI solution development, leveraging AI to build a more sustainable world.