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It is an Equal World with Sakshi Kapahi

by Team IA, March 8, 2021

On Women’s Day 2021, Team IA presents to you a dazzling series of interviews with women bosses who inspire with their grit, determination, formidable achievements, and a brilliant career trajectory, owning one goal at a time.

Team IA gets chatting with Sakshi Kapahi, Director at OMAM Consultants on shunning all stereotypes and leading the way towards a gender-neutral work environment.
A Graduate in Economics from Grinnell College and an M.B.A from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, Sakshi is Director at OMAM Consultants Pvt. Ltd., one of India’s leading HR Consulting companies. Her promising career graph includes her work with Deutsche Bank, New York as a trader in investing in structured, distressed and other hard assets. She has also worked with Deutsche Bank’s Social Commitment Fund providing financing to microfinance organizations around the world.
Sakshi is extremely passionate about bringing women back to the work force and working on diversity and inclusion issues. Last year when the pandemic took the world in its grip, Sakshi and her team at OMAM launched Bounceback List as a CSR initiative to help people who had lost their jobs get back into the job market.

Though it is increasingly untrue in the modern set-up, you started working in the banking sector fairly early in 2004, when it was stereotyped as a job for men. What has been the experience like?

One, banking was a fabulous experience because you’re surrounded by really smart people, and  there is a lot of stress on the quality of the work, the learnings are huge very early on and you get a lot of hands on experience. It set a great work foundation and work ethic for me.  I also got to work with amazing bosses, who were all actually men and were great mentors. But the challenge came that as a  woman you didn’t find enough women mentors, and that was something I missed.

In terms of stereotypes, we did see a lot of those where certain functions like secretarial or even HR were predominantly women, and it always seemed like it was the way to fill the diversity gap.

Also, the language and the culture on the trading floors was very male dominated, it was a lot sports analogies, a lot of swearing, guy jokes. Women were checked out as they walked by, and very blatantly so, which made you conscious that you were a woman in a men’s trading floor.

Mostly, people were nice, and if you worked hard you’re approachable and you work well in a team, you were ok, but the feeling of being a minority on the floor, of being different, of trying to fit in always stared at you.

Also I don’t think its “increasingly untrue”, its just “increasingly uncool” to express it but the biases are still very strong and the diversity gap still a very real issue globally.

  • In your current capacity as the director at Omam Consultants Pvt Ltd, do you feel as you climb the ladder of experience, the roles become more gender neutral and people look up to you for your expertise than anything else?

No, in general I think the opposite is true. In the beginning as a management trainee/analyst, associate, you are 30-50% of your class, and therefore treated fairly equally, but as you grow professionally so do other commitments and there for women the roles become harder personally and the view of people around you changes. Biases like, oh she will she will soon get married and leave, or is married and will soon have a baby, or she has kids she wont be able to travel or work late all start playing into peoples mind.

Its only when women become extremely senior, such as CEO’s or renowned experts that the biases reduce, but otherwise it’s still a battle.

  • BounceBack List is an exceptional platform, forward-thinking, and helpful in an hour of need for the working professional who suddenly find themselves in odd situations due to job cuts resultant of the pandemic. Could you elaborate the role of AI in this venture?

1. Our crawlers are constantly scanning the web to find the latest positions at all kinds of companies and their requirements

2. Our ML algorithms look for patterns in employees’ resumes to understand whether they would match certain positions are not

For Employers:

3. We go beyond text matching (which a lot of companies do, and call it AI), and actually look for patterns like, 

a. How often does the employee change jobs, 

b. What is the level of involvement of the employee vs the team (if that’s mentioned the resume) – this uses a lot of Deep Learning (DL) and Convolutional Neural Networks, (CNN) to understand hidden patterns in candidate’s experience

c. Is the candidate merely using terms that are in vogue these days, or has actually worked on those, 

d. Has the resume text been copied from job descriptions posted by companies, 

e. Also compare the growth part of the candidate vs the national/regional average, to determine if the candidate is an achiever, average or a laggard

For Candidate:

4. We collect 100s of signals from job descriptions to match with candidate’s resume

5. Pattern recognition to immediately understand the kind of companies the candidate would be interested in (this requires a few years of experience on candidate’s resume, for our algorithms to understand a candidate’s work affinities)

6. Even if there might not be an immediate fit job description, we continuously crawl the web to find those positions that would fit the candidate

  • Do you find it ironic that AI which is often criticized for being responsible for future job cuts, is actually being used to help employees & companies BounceBack to their true potential? Please elaborate.

To quote Daniela Rus (one of the foremost women in AI): It is important for people to understand that AI is nothing more than a tool. Like any other tool, it is neither intrinsically good nor bad. It is solely what we choose to do with it. I believe that we can do extraordinarily positive things with AI—but it is not a given that that will happen.”

I don’t think AI will remove or take over humans, I believe it will help us be better at what we do. We are social animals, and thinking that computers will run everything and there will be no need for human interaction, the human touch, is just too cold and unreal for me. If anything covid has shown how important it is to have your support system of people, of family, friends, colleagues, someone to talk to. Machines, AI and social media cannot change that.

I don’t think we should use AI as a threat to our jobs but embrace it as a way to reduce the repetitive nature of our jobs, and use our time to do better things, to learn more, to grow more.

  • Across the world many women are seen driving AI from strength to strength. Who are some of the women you look upto across the world?

There are many brilliant women at the forefront of AI today. As entrepreneurs, academic researchers, industry executives, venture capitalists and more, these women are shaping the future of artificial intelligence. Some of the women ive been following are:

Joy Buolamwini has aptly been described as “the conscience of the A.I. revolution.” Her pioneering work on algorithmic bias as a graduate student at MIT opened the world’s eyes to the racial and gender prejudices embedded in facial recognition systems.

Daphne Koller: CEO & Founder, insitro

Daphne Koller shows the symbiosis between academia and industry that is a defining characteristic of the field of artificial intelligence.

Anna Patterson has led a distinguished career developing and deploying AI products, both at large technology companies and at startups. A long-time executive at Google, which she first joined in 2004, Patterson led artificial intelligence efforts for years as the company’s VP of Engineering. In 2017 she launched Google’s AI venture capital fund Gradient Ventures, where today she invests in early-stage AI startups

Daniela Rus  – one of the World’s leading AI and roboticists. She is from my Alma Mater – MIT, and the first female head of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), one of the most largest and most prestigious AI research labs in the world.

  • Who are some of the next gen women in India in the field of AI/ Technology whose work one should keep their eyes pinned for?

There are quite a few. Let me name few of them.

Supriya Rathi Bagri is a tech entrepreneur expanding the horizons of robotic entertainment through her startup RoboVR, founded in 2016.

Rashmi Mogha is the head of AAU Products at Automation Anywhere, a global leader in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and founder of women empowerment platform, eWOW. She is also an influencer, startup adviser, and a global keynote speaker.

Aaksha Meghawat – A machine learning (ML) engineer at Apple, she is also a tech lead (DRI) for Global Expansion of Hyper-Local Language Models at the Cupertino-based tech giant.

  • A word of advise for those women looking to make AI their area of work in the coming future?
    • Take calculated risks – if you look for consensus you can never try something new
    • Find good mentors
    • Surround yourself with smart people doing different things, the company you keep matters, it inspires you, motivates you, makes you want to do better.
    • Find your niche and build your expertise. Focus is very important.

We are thrilled to bring to you more engaging interviews. Watch this space and do subscribe to our newsletter.

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