International Women’s Day was March 8th and this year’s theme was “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”. As we acknowledge and celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, we will also continue our call to action for gender equality globally.
At Atrium we strive for that equality and have hired some of the brightest women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to help pave the way in AI and machine learning. I spent some time talking to three of our women to get their insights on what it’s like to work in STEM, AI, and more specifically at Atrium.
Tammy Vierkant leads Human Resources at Atrium, focusing on recruiting and operations. She attended Winona State University majoring in Organizational Communication and later received her Master’s degree in Organization Development and HR.
Megha Chauhan is a member of our analytics team. Her early career aspiration was to become a doctor, but after receiving a personal laptop as a gift, she developed a curiosity for technology that overpowered that dream. She went on to receive her Bachelor of Technology in computer science at Jaipur National University.
Laurie Rugemer joined our data science team after working in the Peace Corps for two years, achieving a degree in science and helping advise students on research. During this experience, she discovered her passion for working with numbers and advanced her education with a Master’s Degree in Statistics.
What about STEM was inspiring to you as a career choice?
Megha: Thinking back to when I first considered STEM as part of my future, there were a lot of questions in my mind – lots of why’s and how’s. Growing up, I was told by well-meaning adults that only government jobs are ‘suited’ and ‘safe’ for girls in India. Obviously, that didn’t stop me. From a child who could not contain my excitement showcasing the process behind volcano eruptions in a science project to an adult burning the midnight oil researching “PlasticRoad,” I decided to go for it.
Laurie: I had been working in the field of Science Education for a long time and ultimately took a position as the coordinator of a Science Ed masters program. This experience gave me the opportunity to help students with their research. I realized that my knowledge of statistics was not deep enough to grow in this role, so I returned to school and earned a Master’s in Statistics so that I could understand and implement research more effectively.
What role will AI play that will impact the future?
Megha: Machines are on their way to making the world unbelievably cool and interesting. The superpower of AI and Robotics combined with the intelligence of humans will help in exploring the unknown, especially in industries like health care, where efforts have been made in extending the human lifespan, early diagnosis, and preventive measures.
Tammy: AI may have been a major buzzword in 2019, but it is here to stay! While some companies have veered toward skepticism of AI and resisted exploring the benefits, others who adopted AI practices early on have already begun to see improvements in productivity, efficiency, and accuracy in all aspects of their business. I think a major shift will be in education. Students will be trained on roles that are directly associated with working with AI, ultimately placing even more emphasis on STEM, allowing graduates to be that much more prepared upon entering the workforce.
Last year, Forbes said we needed more women in AI to help eliminate gender bias. What is Atrium doing to help overcome this?
Laurie: Atrium’s methodology is dedicated to helping build systems of intelligence for our clients, which inherently means we are not building siloed, scattered machine learning models – instead we must have a deep understanding of business process and strategy, data collection practices, current state and desired future state, etc., which make the results of machine learning solutions more meaningful and more accurate. It is very difficult to eliminate all societal bias because a lot of it is unconscious and the models we build rely on historical data that may perpetuate past biases, but we are building solutions that are not entirely model-driven.
Tammy: Atrium is always on the hunt for top talent! A perfect example of how Atrium is overcoming the gender bias is how we recruit for our college hiring program, Luminate. We are looking for individuals who have the aptitude to learn quickly and approach problem-solving in a unique manner. We don’t limit our candidate pool to students who only have a degree in Computer Science or Statistics, we look for candidates with a wide range of majors and programs to provide the diversity we want and need. While their area of study may not be directly related to machine learning, often times their skill set is exactly what we are targeting.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM, and how have you overcome these challenges? What suggestions would you make to other women in similar situations?
Laurie: So far, I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been mentored and supported by strong women in STEM, especially in the world of science research. I suggest seeking out people within your team that you can communicate openly with and with whom you can have a two-way learning relationship. Be honest about the challenges you’re having and do what you can to help create the culture you want to see – show respect, and expect people to treat you with the same. I think “imposter syndrome” is a real thing for any of us, so trying to build confidence and not undermine your own power and influence is important.
Megha: The biggest challenge is in dealing with people who think companies hire women just to balance the gender ratio. And as a result, oftentimes, women think they need to work harder to be taken seriously in the workplace. The key to overcoming this is to always believe in yourself and your abilities. Fortunately for me, each company I’ve worked for has supported a fair and positive culture. At Atrium, all employees are equally encouraged to reach their full potential.
If you could provide one piece of advice to young women pursuing a career in STEM, what would it be?
Laurie: Don’t quit just because you don’t think you are good at STEM. It’s not about talent, it’s about perseverance. I had many students almost give up their dream of STEM because they couldn’t get through a gateway course like Intro to Statistics, and I think we often internalize that we’re either good or bad at subjects like math. I try to teach my own daughters that it’s about hard work and constant practice, not being amazing at it the first time.
Tammy: If I could provide one piece of advice to women thinking about a career in STEM it would be to GO FOR IT. Careers in STEM allow for creativity, innovation, and teamwork, and there are so many different paths you can choose in STEM. Even if you aren’t immediately certain on which area you’d like to focus, so much of what you will learn is transferable and will help set you up for success down the road. Learn to be your own advocate and understand that you deserve to have a voice and a seat at the table. If you are fortunate enough to find something you love to do, it’s not a job, it’s a passion!
What has been your favorite aspect of working with AI and at Atrium?
Megha: My favorite part has been developing an intelligent experience for customers and helping them achieve increased productivity and predict future behavior. At Atrium, we are always on the path of continual learning and growth largely through teamwork. While I may not have the solution to all questions, every time, I can lean on an exceptionally talented group of people in our office who are masters in their respective fields and collaboratively explore how a problem can be solved.
Tammy: My favorite aspect of working at Atrium has been the incredible people I interact with on a daily basis. Being in HR, my role is not technically focused, but over the course of the last 16 months, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the brightest, most intelligent Data Scientists that have allowed me to understand the importance of AI and the benefits our customers will see from the work we are doing. Overall, working at Atrium has been the greatest challenge of my career, in a good way! Every single one of us has been pushed outside of our comfort zones and tasked with thinking outside the box as we continue to pioneer the space we are in today.
While Atrium is still a very young company, our women have already made their mark in developing the processes and models we use in our delivery methods and with our customers. They are truly paving the way forward working with AI, ML, and STEM, taking on the next revolution in the business world. Atrium celebrates them and all women and their contributions not only on International Women’s Day but every day. It is important to remember that small actions can have big impacts, so join #GenerationEquality and become part of the movement.