See The World: Samasource VP on Gender Equity, AI and A Global Perspective
Following her graduation from University of Pittsburgh in 2003, with a degree in environmental science and a completed honors thesis, Heather Gadonniex says the two years she spent traveling in Southeast Asia are the secrets to an expansive worldview.
For the vice president of marketing at Samasource, whether she was scuba diving in Thailand, studying with the Dalai Lama in Nepal or spending time in Cambodia, India and Vietnam, all of it helped “expand the way I view problems, the world and the way I think. Being able to have a more well-rounded understanding of challenges we face at the global level and applying it to my workday,” provide the connection she needs, she says.
A global data impact sourcing company with 3,000 employees that offers “high-quality training data and validation for the world’s leading AI technologies,” Samasource has a gender equity mission that is enviable. Because they don’t just talk about it, they have achieved it.
Gadonniex says the company has 53 to 56 percent female employees worldwide. Headed by Leila Janah, founder and CEO, with Wendy Gonzalez serving as president and COO, Samasource’s mission is intentional, particularly in East Africa, where the impact of women working has a far deeper impact than even in the U.S.
“A woman provides for her family and supports the community,” Gadonniex says, and it has a broader impact on climate change. “When women are given dignified digital work and paid above the minimum wage, they forge a new path,” she says.
Research supports that connection. According to the UN Report, “Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change,” “Women are not only vulnerable to climate change but they are also effective actors or agents of change in relation to both mitigation and adaptation. Women often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies. Furthermore, women’s responsibilities in households and communities, as stewards of natural and household resources, positions them well to contribute to livelihood strategies adapted to changing environmental realities.”
A global solution is employing more women around the world and Samasource is keen on that mission.
According to Drawdown, a San Francisco-based climate initiative with global advisors, “Women have less access to a range of resources, from land rights and credit to education and technology. Even though they farm as capably and efficiently as men, inequality in assets, inputs, and support means women produce less on the same amount of land. Closing this gender gap can improve the lives of women, their families and communities, while addressing global warming.”
With employment equity for women, Gadonniex says, “women are able to contribute to society, pursue education and have a lower carbon footprint.” Higher education and fair wages change consumption patterns, she says.
As a vp at a tech company, Gadonniex says Samasource “strives to empower women through education, training and mentorship.”
And no, as research shows, gender parity at the leadership C-suite level is not a pipeline problem. In tech, STEM field and other industries, the pipeline is closed or has no access for many women, and particularly women of color.
According to LinkedIn, “An analysis of the gender ratio of more than 100,000 non-technical titles at tech companies and interviews with more than a dozen senior female executives in the industry illustrate that increasing the number of women graduates with technical backgrounds won’t solve the problem.”
LinkedIn reports, “The few women in tech who have ascended the ranks say that the very nature of how tech companies recruit and reward workers must change if the industry is going to become more inclusive. To make progress, tech companies must put policies into practice that allow flexible work and they will need to rethink the skills needed to fill senior-level non-technical roles.”
Gadonniex agrees. “So often we don’t have the right mentors or the right support system to insure women are given the same opportunities, but also the same levels of guidance and engagement,” Gadonniex says.
Her own career path reflects her working at Underwriters Laboratories, then as a management consultant for thinkstep, then in her own firm focusing on sustainability, and a startup in the predictive analytics space before joining Samasource in October 2018.
As Samasource is a leader in AI, Gadonniex says this is prime space for women to rise as leaders.
At the recent Transform 2019 global AI conference Venture Beat reports, “As AI infiltrates every facet of modern life and begins to shape a previously unimaginable future, it’s becoming clear that women play an essential role in crafting this game-changing technology. Women founders, inventors, researchers, and activists in the AI sector, especially women of color, are shouldering their way to the front in Silicon Valley and shaking up the industry.”
Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj writes in Forbes,” 95% of all customer interactions will be controlled by AI by 2025, according to EY, to the point where users will be unable to differentiate between human or online interactions, in other words, AI will impact every conceivable aspect.”
She adds, “The absence of women in tech is well documented, and the time has come to for women across every sector to embrace new technologies. While this may be daunting, there is an opportunity to become more innovative as leaders.”
Gadonniex says what works so well at Samasource can be replicated in other teach companies and in other industries. The gender equity in leadership is critical, she says.
In addition to fair and equal access to training, mentorship and guidance, Gadonniex suggests, “Ensuring there is flexibility and understanding of different work times and different working styles.” Flexibility in work hours is key.
As for her own path to leadership, Gadonniex says her time spent abroad was crucial to her current role.
“To think with a worldview requires empathy and understanding. I look at our global ecosystem, but I also see how we do something in California will have an impact on someone living in another part of the world and I understand that connection.”