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Women Leading The AI Industry: “Providing a supportive environment for working parents will help attract and retain top talent in the AI industry” With Jena Acuff & Tyler Gallagher

Providing a supportive environment for working parents will help attract and retain top talent in the AI industry and tech, in general. Offering perks like remote or part-time arrangements and improved parental leave policies will encourage more women to see fields like AI as career path and where they can make an impact with their […]


Providing a supportive environment for working parents will help attract and retain top talent in the AI industry and tech, in general. Offering perks like remote or part-time arrangements and improved parental leave policies will encourage more women to see fields like AI as career path and where they can make an impact with their skill set. There are organizations like The Mom Project that are doing a tremendous job at advocating for change by providing opportunities for women to re-enter the workforce.


As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jena Acuff, Senior Product Manager at the AI company Digital Reasoning. Jena is a product management leader with 12 years of experience, working on both consumer and enterprise software. Prior to Digital Reasoning, Jena worked for Groupon and American Express. She has also been a Product Management Instructor at General Assembly in Chicago.


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?

I realized early on in my career that product management was a perfect fit for me. I was fortunate to work on products that helped support small business growth, and being able to see the impact your day-to-day work has on people’s lives is what makes it exciting to be a product manager. I love working in teams and building products that solve a specific problem. Artificial intelligence affords me the opportunity to accomplish this in new ways that I never thought possible. However, this technology isn’t a one-and-done solution; rather it’s able to grow and learn with your customers — helping them solve problems they may not have even recognized were there.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

A piece of advice that I’d share, especially with women in the tech industry, is to never let a job description intimidate you. On top of this, never assume that you are not qualified for a certain job just because the description lists qualifications that may not map exactly to your past experiences. I urge women in the workforce, no matter the age, skill level or industry to take that chance and reach out to the hiring manager of your dream job. It’s about showing a company the value and skillset you can bring to their team. In fact, I got my job at Digital Reasoning by sending the hiring manager a message on LinkedIn.

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

As a product manager for Digital Reasoning’s Conduct Surveillance Solution, we’re currently zeroed-in on analyzing human behaviors to identify misconduct within the financial sector. Our mission is to use AI technology for good, and in the financial space we’re able to help compliance teams identify internal misconduct — whether it be rumors, insider trading or collusion.

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 had leaders throughout my career who have invested in me as an employee and provided opportunities for me to grow. For every new job I have taken on, I never fit the job description perfectly. Those leaders took a chance on me and the value they believed I could provide their team. I started my career at American Express, and early on I was exposed to an environment where you could have an ambitious career while always putting family first. I saw working mothers frequently getting recognized for their hard work and holding senior leadership roles. Getting the opportunity to see this first-hand and grow under this kind of work environment was very impressionable to me. Now, as a working mother myself, it has given me the confidence that I can pursue a career that will also allow me to balance my family without having to make compromises.

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

  1. There is so much opportunity ahead of us technology professionals to come up with new innovations around how we can use AI to be more productive and efficient in every aspect of our daily lives. These changes will enable us to use our time and energy to be more creative, focus on the relationships that are important to us, and be more present.
  2. Making the output of AI very simple to end users. AI solutions can make it easy for customers and users to understand the insights behind their data to help them make faster, while more informed, decisions.
  3. AI will supercharge surveillance to catch crimes and other threats. Machine learning models and NLP capabilities will power surveillance technologies that can learn from their surroundings, allowing them to follow trends that could be a warning signal for threats.
  4. For every industry to be touched by the AI revolution. From healthcare to customer service, AI will augment data-heavy tasks across industries, freeing up employees to focus on high-value work that requires the human touch.
  5. While there may be a perception that to work in AI you need have a data scientist background, there are a lot of exciting opportunities for those with different skill sets to work on the front lines of developing AI, ranging from product management to design.

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

  1. AI-oversaturation — within our professional and personal lives — may hurt human creativity. AI allows us to make smarter decisions (whether it be in the office or at home), but as people rely more on technology to make predictions, we may forget to also tap into our own human intuition.
  2. Customer privacy and data security best practices. As AI takes in more and more data, companies will be challenged with how they balance the need for data to accelerate business operations and the need for increased customer transparency on data collection practices.
  3. Ensuring that technology companies provide transparency for consumers on how their data is being used, to avoid it feeling like an AI “black box.”
  4. Companies leveraging AI may risk losing the human touch in regard to customer service and management. We need to identify the right customer touch points to leverage human interaction.
  5. Ensuring that there is a learning loop in place with AI solutions so that they can continue to learn and iterate on feedback from humans. This helps mitigate risks in cases where an AI solution may miss alerting on something that is important or may classify something incorrectly.

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?

There must be a social accountability for technology leaders to use AI for good. While there’s of course risk for AI-malpractice, I believe that tech leaders (in tandem with the government) will ultimately need to create global “best practices,” or standards for how to use, monitor and succeed with artificial intelligence solutions.

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?

Tech and business leaders must strive for greater transparency in how consumer and company data is being protected and used by technology companies. To work effectively, AI tools must ingest more and more of our data — but it’s on the companies using the technology to be completely transparent about how and why this data is used. We’ll need business leaders to prioritize data privacy to prevent concerns with AI. This is another area where creating regulations will help hold businesses and tech providers accountable for the work they’re doing.

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

Outside of my work at American Express, Groupon and Digital Reasoning, I’ve fulfilled my passion for mentoring as a Product Management Instructor for General Assembly, a community focused on continued education and empowering professionals with the tools they need to build new skill sets. The curriculum I taught was focused on providing students with the foundational knowledge they need to consider for a career in this evolving field. One of the reasons I am proud to work at Digital Reasoning is that we are using technology for good, and I can use my professional skills to make a small impact.

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?

  • Work for a leader that is invested in your career growth.
  • Be yourself and embrace your “superpowers.” The teams that are worth working for will support you for the value you bring to the organization.
  • Step out of your comfort zone and share your voice, whether that is writing a blog post or sitting on a panel at a conference.

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

Providing a supportive environment for working parents will help attract and retain top talent in the AI industry and tech, in general. Offering perks like remote or part-time arrangements and improved parental leave policies will encourage more women to see fields like AI as career path and where they can make an impact with their skill set. There are organizations like The Mom Project that are doing a tremendous job at advocating for change by providing opportunities for women to re-enter the workforce.

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

One of my most influential managers over my career was a big advocate of “picking up the phone.” We often rely too heavily on Slack, text messages and email. Talking to someone on the phone, over video or in person can be invaluable to moving things forward and building a strong team. Additionally, I think it is important to be as present as possible, both in your professional and personal life. It is easy to be distracted with technology; being more present can help build stronger relationships and create room for innovation.

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. 🙂

There are so many organizations that I admire for their efforts to make an impact on the world, whether that is making healthcare more accessible or fighting climate change. There are a lot of people who want to take action and help, and I think there is an exciting potential for how we use AI to connect passionate people with unique skill sets to organizations who need help.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn profile: here

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

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