Connecting the Dots

Leading Women in Tech and Govt Talk AI, Leadership, Career Paths, and More

BSA CEO and President Victoria Espinel in conversation with Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.

Leading women in technology from across industry and government took time last week to meet virtually with dozens of participants in the Girls Who Code program.

Young women who are part of the GWC program’s Summer Immersion Program (SIP) based in Washington heard from President Biden’s top science advisor, a leading member of Congress and women helping to change the face of tech industry leadership, including BSA CEO and President Victoria Espinel.

The first part of the program featured Espinel in conversation with Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. Dr. Prabhakar shared about her journey to the White House through various experiences in both the public and private sectors.

“What I finally realized was the thing that I deeply loved is when you can solve a problem or make a discovery because it would let your future unfold and help achieve a huge aspiration,” Dr. Prabhakar said. “I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve had a lot of experiences of work to the arc of the future changing.”

Dr. Prabhakar asked the class whether students were using generative artificial intelligence. Students were receptive to the new technology, and she emphasized that engaging with new technology can give glimpse into the different ways it could affect peoples’ lives. The ability to make these AI capabilities safe and accessible it a priority for OSTP.

“We’re trying to get out of the gate right on AI so when you start to make contributions, we will be giving you a foundation to stand on,” Dr. Prabhakar said.

Students asked about what advice Dr. Prabhakar would give herself and her answer was simple: fail early and often, in part to build resilience in the face of adversity.

BSA CEO and President Victoria Espinel talks to SAP Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer Julia White and US Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA).

In a second discussion featuring US Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), who co-chairs the Women in STEM Caucus in Congress, Espinel was joined by SAP Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer Julia White to discuss how technology is shaping lives.

“The advancement technology is making surrounding sustainability is something I would point to,” White said. “At SAP, we’re looking at achieving zero emissions, zero waste, and zero inequality.”

SAP has continued to work on creating and maintaining diversity in the workforce, while also learning how to use natural resources more efficiently. Houlahan discussed how there are obstacles preventing government from adapting to recent technology.

“I came from implementing ERPs and CRMs at my last job,” Houlahan said. “I knew where I was coming from and the power of technology and what the tools are capable of. I was really disheartened to see that none of those best-in-class technologies are not available to government.”

Espinel asked both speakers to describe the best uses of AI and what the risks might be behind using this technology. White pointed to efficiency and how AI can help humans be more effective in what they’re doing in their life and work through increased automation.

With every opportunity, there will be downsides and White illustrated how models are training from information that is biased and coding material to propagate that thinking forward. Houlahan is looking to mitigate the risk by developing legislation that instills safeguards while encouraging innovation.

“AI genuinely has the opportunity to make decisions more rapidly, but the question is, how?” Houlahan said. “Making sure that a human is ultimately the final decider of what to do and we’re working on legislation to make sure that we’re thinking about the human in the loop.”

The students also asked about what could be done to increase the number of women and women of color in STEM jobs. Both Houlahan and White said that ensuring there are diverse role models, such as people in leadership roles or in government is a way to increase diversity so women and women of color know that the company is a good fit.

White offered advice at the end of the session, saying that one of her mentors often said that failure is necessary on the path to mastery and that women can often be the hardest on themselves. Houlahan echoed the statement and encouraged women to empower themselves to be leaders.

“I would encourage you to use your voice, use your words, take space in the room,” Houlahan said. “Make sure you’re asking questions and engaging and answering questions.”

The students learned about different career paths in STEM, technology policy, and advice on how to advance in their future career paths. In the next engagement, students will learn about careers in artificial intelligence.

Check the Connecting the Dots blog for recaps on the partnership sessions during the Girls Who Code 2023 SIP.

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Gideon LettGideon Lett
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Gideon Lett serves as Vice President & General Manager of the BSA Foundation, overseeing the Foundation’s programs, operations, and outreach.

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