Women in Voice Technology

By: Karen Scates

Mar 09, 2020
8 MIN READ

5 Inspiring Women in Voice Share Their Perspectives on International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we spoke to 5 innovative and inspiring women about their personal and professional journeys as influencers in an increasingly voice-first world. While each of these women has worked hard to make the world a better place through voice technology, they are not the only ones making a difference in the industry. There are many women engineers, marketers, executives, language experts, podcasters, and thought leaders who are working to voice-enable our world for everyone. 

This year, we asked 5 phenomenal women to share their perspectives on creating a world that is “Each for Equal.” 

Q: Tell us about one accomplishment as a woman in voice AI that you are proud of?

Dr. Joan Palmiter Bajorek, Head of Conversational Research and Strategy, Versa, Founder and Director of Women in Voice
@joanbajorek

Joan

My PhD comprehensive paper on voice AI datasets was published in Harvard Business Review and later translated into Brazilian Portuguese. Illuminating stark gender and race biases in automatic speech recognition, it talks about how bad development choices can result in poor performance of products, cost teams a huge amount of money, and unintentional unethical repercussions. It is now consulted and used for educational and research purposes internationally, including at Adobe, Accenture, and Pratt.

Heidi Culbertson, CEO, Marvee
@hculbertson

Heidi

As the founder of a successful voice-design company, building a business, creating impactful experiences, and bringing voice AI and the 50+ population together, it beats everything. I am most proud of finding the right blend of doing good business and social good at the same time.

Keri Roberts, Branding Strategist, Host of Inside VOICE Podcast
@kerinroberts

Keri

I work in the branding, content marketing, and community building side of voice AI. So, my favorite achievement is providing a space and opportunity that allows people to be heard through podcasting and social media. Voice is still new and it’s important to include the perspectives and opinions within the full community and help educate the world on voice.

Nithya Thadani, CEO, RAIN
Nithya

Nithya

I hope that I’ve made some contribution to evangelizing and creating momentum for the potential of voice AI. Given how nascent the market was when we started, my mandate has always been equal parts evangelism and execution. RAIN invests a significant amount of time in shepherding brands to this emerging technology and its applications. We understand where our customer is along the adoption curve and meet them there—which has led to greater and more meaningful adoption of the technology.

Claire Mitchell, Director, VaynerSmart, VaynerMedia
Claire

Claire

I’d frame achievement in terms of working on challenges that I enjoy. I love solving puzzles, and that’s a big part of how I think about innovation or designing experiences—whether for voice or any other type of user interface. It’s pretty cool to work on briefs that require new ways of organizing information, delivering relevance and empathizing with the context of an audience—staying ahead as our digital interfaces evolve. 

Q: How can the voice community better support women?

Joan

Listen. Recruit. Look at the numbers horizontally and vertically. Retain amazing talent through great work cultures. Make work-life easy for caregivers, parents, and those with mental health challenges. Create flexibility in work hours and remote work. Create transparency in pay structures. Value mentorship and support senior and junior folks creating connections. Diversity. Inclusion. Retention.

Heidi

I believe the voice community in general has been supportive of women. We’ve seen women participate at the Voice Summit, voice-first events and within SoundHound Inc.’s many voice-education webinars and publications. Diversity, be it gender, age or ethnicity is critical as we move toward a voice-enabled world. There are visionaries, executives, developers, designers and other brilliant talents, who just happen to be women. We need to see them on the main stage, part of every panel, at every event, on every product team, within every user-testing pool. Everywhere we look, we should see diversity. Diversity breeds strength, innovation, and success.

Keri

I think it’s important that we actively ask women to join in on the conversion and remind them that their opinions and expertise are valid and necessary in order to improve this technology and community.

Nithya

The key word here is community; we need to continue to create opportunities for women to meet one another, build relationships, and create support systems. Studies show that women are hardwired for friendship and community. I believe it! I’ve met the most incredible and inspiring women these past few years working in voice, and those bonds have made me exponentially better at what I do.

Claire

From my experience working with partners and clients and attending conferences, there are so many talented, encouraging, and driven women working in voice. That’s also reflected in the support I’ve seen in the voice community generally, whether folks are just entering the field or have been in the space for years. However, there’s always an opportunity to amplify more voices—gender, background, industry, age, etc. We’ll ultimately see more interesting experiences emerge if a broader range of perspectives are heard.

Q: The theme this year is “Each for Equal.” What does that mean to you?

Joan

All humans support all other humans. 

Heidi

To me, “Each for Equal” means everyone matters. Each “one” has a voice. Each ”one” deserves to be listened to. Each “one” is invited to participate. Each “one” adds to the health, wealth, and future of our world.

Keri

To me it means that we have to include each person in the community to create an equal playing field. All genders, cultures, religions, and backgrounds, etc. should be included in developing the voice tech space or any space, really. Everyone has a unique background—that’s what makes our world beautiful. And yet, we all crave the same thing equally, to belong and to be recognized. So, let’s actively include each person and create an equal representation of the world as best we can. 

Nithya

To me, this means not just Women for Equal, but rather, Everyone for Equal. Men and allies, too. Gender inequality is a systemic problem, and we’re going to need the whole system to come together to solve it. When we have gender diversity on teams, we get to bigger, more creative and innovative answers—something everyone should care about. To the many men and allies who are engaged in closing the gender gap: keep doing what you’re doing—we can’t make progress without you.

Claire

Everyone has something to contribute. We can all spend a bit more time listening to each other.

Q: What, if any, gender challenges have you encountered and overcome in your professional life?

Joan

Microaggressions occur all the time. Being dismissed for being perceived as too young, being perceived as a woman, being perceived as someone who cares about aesthetics. Salient material that has been said to my face: “Oh, you’re actually technical.” “Are you really the person behind Women in Voice? Who actually is it?” “Oh, you do know what you’re talking about.” To combat how this might be received, I have a strong support system of people in my personal and professional life who support me as I process how words, actions, and other things do or do not affect me.

Heidi

Having spent a 20+ career in male-dominated fields, I have often been the lone female. There have been multiple challenges but my focus is lessons learned. I learned to speak up and to own my voice. I learned the value of establishing networks outside of one’s’ business silo, and the importance of finding mentors and champions, male or female

Keri

 I have been told I’m too strong or tough when I’ve stood my ground or was direct in my communication. I have been called “honey,” and “sweetie,” and have heard suggestive comments by older men at professional dinners and been asked in interviews if I’m married, have children or want to have children. I’ve had a male boss yell at me with his finger in my face. I will say in comparison to most, I’ve been lucky in not experiencing as many awful experiences in my professional career as some others have. But in situations like those I’ve described, I always remember that I am strong and I am confident in who I am, in my abilities, and in my worth. I always speak my mind in a calm way about things like this and when it continues, I leave people and situations. Unfortunately, there are toxic people and the only thing you can do is leave negative situations and associate with companies, clients, and people who respect and appreciate you.

Nithya

Early on in my role as CEO, I received feedback from my team that I was not “warm.” This really impacted me, because it was at odds with my personality, both personally and professionally. One of my mentors was quick to point out that you wouldn’t hear anyone ding a male CEO for not being warm; it’s not one of their criteria for good leadership. Women are often faced with gender perceptions and expectations that can ultimately affect how they are viewed as leaders. I addressed the stereotype—and also shifted my behavior to squash it, but today I am much more attuned to these subtle gender challenges.

Claire

Everyone has probably had moments of self-doubt in a room full of people who are all another gender, more senior, younger, louder, silent, cooler, nerdier, feminine, masculine, different. Realizing that everyone is finding their place has allowed me to embrace the beat of my own drum. 

Q: What unique perspectives do you think women bring to the voice technology conversation?

Joan

Wildly brilliant, disruptive ideas do not come from one small homogenous population. Voice tech is poised to disrupt technology as we know it, and including a respect for diversity can be brought to the forefront from the first waves of voice technology in the tech ecosystem.

Heidi

Women have a unique characteristic deeply embedded in our make-up. It is empathy. With that, comes the perspective needed for the voice conversation.

Keri

 For the most part, women have always been conversationalists. I think on average most women are very good at having conversations and understanding how language works. I think that’s very valuable in the voice technology space. I also think most women tend to be problem solvers and multitaskers—able to handle personal and professional life well while also finding the balance between being emotional and creative and being structured and logical.

Nithya

It’s so important that women play a role in shaping how this industry evolves. Voice technology and conversation is about human connection at the end of the day, and women are 50% of that equation. Women also over-index on the desire to contribute to society in their work, and voice technology can accelerate social innovation in so many ways. Women have a unique and important lens to bring to the way these human interactions are designed and built.

Claire

An understanding and passion for communication, an inclination toward curiosity, and an ability to empathize with others. Any human with these characteristics is a huge asset to the team—in voice, in design, in tech, in life.

“Each for Equal”: A mission for the voice AI community

In many ways, this year’s theme of International Women’s Day, “Each for Equal,” parallels the aspirations of the voice AI community. Gender equality and the democratization of technology through voice user interfaces both build bridges and bring all of us closer to fulfilling the promise of full inclusion and opportunity for every member of society. Reaching those goals will take the creativity, inspiration, and innovation of every person in every country around the globe. Each year, IWD reminds us to look beyond stereotypes and perceive people as they should be perceived—for their potential to help us build a better world. Thank you to the women of voice for helping us to showcase our hopes for the future.

Karen Scates is a storyteller with a passion for helping others through content. Argentine tango, good books and great wine round out Karen’s interests.

Interested in Learning More?

Subscribe today to stay informed and get regular updates from SoundHound Inc.