Inspiring 50: Canada 2018 Award celebrating inspirational female role models in tech and innovation

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Dr. Sandy Penn Whitehouse, CEO Tickit Health

On Monday, May 8th, I was heading east, after 6 years building Tickit Health in Vancouver. This was a special occasion. As I was headed to the Parliament Hill in Ottawa, I felt proud — and frankly, speechless and humbled. I am honoured to be one of the 50 women to receive Inspiring 50: Canada 2018 Award which celebrates inspirational female role models in tech and innovation.

The fundamental objective of Inspiring 50 is to challenge the negative perception people have of women working in technology and to increase women’s equality through greater female participation in STEM fields. Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, advocates, community champions and change makers — these are the faces of women in tech and innovation. It was an exhilarating experience to stand beside pioneering women who are altering the STEM landscape.

I had an aha moment when listening to Ms. Parinza Sobhani, Director of Machine Learning at the University of Ottawa who spoke of the “Importance of diversity in AI”.

AI is promising to have the power to change our society, from healthcare to supply chain management. However, like any analytic tool, it is dependent on data input. I have written previously about poor quality data resulting in “garbage in, garbage out”. Ms. Sobhami took this concept to a whole new level and brought the uniqueness of our humanity into the tech space. AI data input not only needs to have intrinsically high quality, she emphasized, it also needs to be representative of the populations it serves.

In healthcare in the 1990s we created clinical pathways modelled on standardization of care for a “one size fits all” patient. We now know this is neither effective nor cost efficient. The novelty of AI carries the same risk.. Personalized medicine provides better care at lower cost. Similarly, data collection for AI (in healthcare) needs to be inclusive, accommodating minority and vulnerable populations. With healthcare literacy rates at 12% in the US (find site), we need to ensure that all patient reported data tools are accessible, culturally sensitive, meaningful and engaging to capture the broadest representation of quality data.

Our reality today is that in Canada, women make up 33% of students in STEM faculties but only 22% in the workforce and there is even lower representation in executive and leadership roles, highlighting the important and unique position these women have in making a difference.

Before I left for Ottawa, a colleague asked me “How can we increase the number of women working in Canadian tech?”

After today, I believe the real question is what will happen if we don’t. We risk losing the voice and spirit of diversity. The secret sauce to successful technology includes empathy and humanity; both are characteristics that women embrace. So, thank you Inspiring 50 for recognizing female role models in tech and innovation.

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Nina Chen