Renée La Londe of iTalent Digital: “Mass personalization”

Here, I would refer back to my point about the importance of diversity in the development of AI. If you have a small group of people involved in developing AI, then AI will inevitably end up serving them at the expense of everyone else. We need everyone involved — and the diversity we need doesn’t stop at […]

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Here, I would refer back to my point about the importance of diversity in the development of AI. If you have a small group of people involved in developing AI, then AI will inevitably end up serving them at the expense of everyone else. We need everyone involved — and the diversity we need doesn’t stop at demographics. We also need different cultures, different political and religious affiliations, and different ways of looking at problems and seeing the world. The more diverse and inclusive AI development is, the more it will benefit the entire human family. Conversely, the more restrictive it is, the more dangers it will pose to the most vulnerable segments of society. Right now, I would say that the lack of diversity in AI development poses a potential threat, but it is a threat that can be successfully mitigated.


As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Renée La Londe, CEO and founder of iTalent Digital, an innovative woman- and minority-owned SaaS software products company and digital transformation consultancy with offices in the Americas, Europe and Asia that is forging a new paradigm in tech consulting.

Renée La Londe has devoted herself to helping women find their voice in the tech industry and closing the gender gap in STEM throughout her career. In recognition of her efforts in this area, she was named Most Inspiring Executive in STEM by Women in STEM. She is the founder of GLAM (Girls Leadership Meetup Academy), a nonprofit that teaches girls ages 8–12 business acumen, leadership, and computer coding skills, to address the root causes of the gender gap early in life.

Renée was named one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Tech by the National Diversity Council, among many other accolades. She co-wrote the book, Social Knowledge: Organizational Currencies in the New Knowledge Economy.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

It’s a pleasure to speak with you! My path in tech began when I was just 13 years old. I have always been a competitive person, and when I learned that some boys at my school had gone to a computer coding camp, I just had to go, too! I bugged my mom about it until she finally agreed to send me. I learned that I loved coding, and in fact paid my way through university through programming and integrating software for local businesses.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

I was blessed to discover my passion early in life, but some people have to keep trying different things before they find theirs. My advice is to keep trying, and to be relentless in pursuing what you love. Success requires tenacity, and if you don’t love what you do, you won’t have the passion necessary to carry you through the tough times.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Absolutely! This is a very exciting time for my company because since autumn of last year we have launched three new SaaS products that are all first-in-class. One of them (Chama) applies AI and data analytics to change management for the first time ever. Incredibly, in this day and age, change management is still tracked and evaluated manually. We have digitized it and enabled leadership to make data-driven decisions about their transformation projects. Our customers are super excited about it. They are saying, “Wow, I have needed this for so long!”

The second one (MojoRank) applies AI and machine learning to talent acquisition in a way that completely eliminates time wasted vetting unqualified applicants and gets recruiters to the best candidate immediately. It has a lot of innovative functions. One that is particularly exciting is that it can mask certain candidate attributes like name and gender to minimize unconscious hiring bias, which is a big deal right now with companies looking to promote workplace diversity.

The third one (Intelligent Content Syndication) is a revolutionary technology that brings people together in new ways and forges previously impossible relationships by removing the online community siloes and language barriers. Say you want some help with a product you are using. Where can you go? You can go to the online support forum and ask a question, and if no one answers, you can try their website, their Facebook group, etc. — basically, the burden is on the customer to hunt for information. With ICS, we tie together all of these disparate properties, including ones in other languages, so the users on each platform can interact with each other as if they were all in one place. It delivers a huge improvement to the customer experience, and it’s a beautiful example of how technology can bring people closer together.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been fortunate to have a lot of mentors, both men and women, who have supported me throughout my career. If I had to pick just one person who has helped me the most, I would say my dad. Sadly, he passed away when I was 12, but he taught me a lot about entrepreneurship, business and leadership from an early age. He was an entrepreneur himself, and always involved the kids in his businesses. And, he never treated me and my sister differently from my brother — we all were taught that we could achieve whatever we set our mind to.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

The most exciting things about AI are the problems it solves. And, we are in crazy times where there is no shortage of problems! AI will necessarily be embedded into how we solve them. For starters, let’s look at the solutions my own products are delivering with AI:

(1) Greater diversity in areas that have traditionally lacked it, including industries like tech and science, or at certain levels like senior leadership. You can use AI to intelligently rank the quality of job applicants without any regard for race, gender, or background.

(2) Better decision-making and better adoption of new technologies by making change management processes and programs more “intelligent” and data-driven.

(3) Better collaboration among customers and subject matter experts and improved customer experience by intelligently proposing relevant content for them on their home platform in their preferred language, regardless of where or in what language it comes from.

To round out the five, here are two other applications of AI that I find particularly exciting:

(4) Mass personalization — the ability to tailor content to individuals is very powerful and broadly applicable to everything from education to healthcare. I have a school-aged son and find the ways in which AI can be used to improve the quality of education to be especially exciting. All kids have unique needs and being able to tailor curriculums and teaching styles to each student can be a powerful way to ensure a level playing field for everyone.

(5) Combating infectious disease — this is on everyone’s mind right now amidst the coronavirus pandemic! AI is being used to identify, track and forecast outbreaks, as well as help diagnose the virus. It is even being used in new drug development and in predictive analytics to help identify and propose potential treatments.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

I would say my main concern about AI right now is that we currently don’t have a diverse enough group of people developing it. We need more women and a greater diversity of backgrounds (race, socioeconomic, cultural, etc.) to make sure that AI is serving the entire human family and to avoid biases being baked into the algorithms or into the data that is informing it. This is one of the reasons I founded GLAM (Girls Leadership Academy Meetup), the nonprofit that is attracting more women into tech.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

Here, I would refer back to my point about the importance of diversity in the development of AI. If you have a small group of people involved in developing AI, then AI will inevitably end up serving them at the expense of everyone else. We need everyone involved — and the diversity we need doesn’t stop at demographics. We also need different cultures, different political and religious affiliations, and different ways of looking at problems and seeing the world. The more diverse and inclusive AI development is, the more it will benefit the entire human family. Conversely, the more restrictive it is, the more dangers it will pose to the most vulnerable segments of society. Right now, I would say that the lack of diversity in AI development poses a potential threat, but it is a threat that can be successfully mitigated.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

Support organizations like GLAM and AI4All that advocate for more diversity in AI development. Also, people who already work in tech and AI can be proactive in seeking out mentors and helping attract more people into the field. As far as reassuring the public, education is key, which is why platforms like Authority Magazine are so important.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I learned about the power of generosity at an early age, and every time I feel anxious or overwhelmed, I give to a cause to re-anchor my perspective. That is why I created GLAM to mentor and coach girls, help them build their confidence, and encourage them to start their own companies and be proactive in effecting change. I founded this nonprofit in 2016 and so far more than 250 girls have gone through this life-changing program. It is so satisfying to see the transformation that takes place in these girls aged 8–12 as they learn to feel the power in their voice, make their opinions known, and see themselves as leaders. Coming out of GLAM, girls are more purposeful in thinking about their future and understand that they are the masters of their own destiny. I often share with them that my dad died when I was 12, and while that was very difficult for me, that is not what defines me. I have the power to define my own life and set my own path. And so do they.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

(1) Believe in yourself! You have what it takes; you are enough. Speak up, make your voice heard, and be confident in your good judgment.

(2) Do whatever it takes. Take on the tough projects that no one else wants. Even if you haven’t done it before, you can figure it out. Show that you are up for the task.

(3) Don’t try to go it alone. You need mentors and sponsors, and people to support and help you. Don’t be too proud to ask for help and advice. Men naturally build strong support networks and we women need to do the same. By the same token, take time to mentor and support other women, as well.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

Mentorship and having good role models are essential, because you can’t be what you can’t see. My company has a budget allocated for nominating women for industry awards and otherwise getting them recognized. We need to be proactive in putting amazing women in the spotlight, as you are doing with this series on Women in AI. This will inspire other women to follow suit!

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

Mahatma Ghandi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” I love this quote because it reminds me that I can be gentle and earth-shaking at the same time! I am very driven by nature. This quote helps me remember that I can be bold and move mountains — gently!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Founding GLAM, nominating women for awards, and mentoring others all support the movement of mentorship. If each of us would commit to mentoring at least one other person — especially a woman or someone from an underserved community who might not have easy access to good mentors — it would make a huge impact in the world. I have encouraged this through my open letter to tech industry leaders.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/reneelalonde/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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