International Women’s Day at NTT DATA: “Breaking the Bias Benefits Everyone”

  • March 09, 2022
A group of people in BREAK THE BIAS pose

NTT DATA team members around the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 and pledged to uphold this year’s theme: #BreakTheBias. That theme resonates with me for many reasons, including the fact that managers in our company are required (and all team members are encouraged) to take training to recognize and eliminate unconscious bias.

For International Women’s Day, we expanded the theme to include bias in Artificial Intelligence and automation technologies. This focus builds on the AI ethics guidelines NTT DATA published in 2019 and the AI Center of Excellence we established the same year. We feel a clear responsibility to help create a human-centered society where AI serves and coexists with people.

We discussed the risks of AI bias in a post to our Perspectives blog on March 7, featuring a few of our company experts in AI and workplace transformation: Kim Curley (practice leader for Workforce Readiness Consulting), Anisha Biggers (managing director, Automation Advisory), and Lisa Woodley (vice president, Customer Experience).

Among the key insights:

  • Most virtual personal assistants have female names and voices because — according to UNESCO research — the female voice is perceived as humble and helpful. This belief perpetuates a stereotype of women as subservient order takers. Many consider this gender bias to be a new form of discrimination against women.
  • Among AI professionals, 78% are men, who (often unintentionally) allow bias to creep into AI technologies.

Solutions include fostering a culture that emphasizes diverse opinions and actively recruiting women and under-represented groups into AI and automation development roles.

One step we’re taking to do that is a hackathon that’s exclusively open to women IT professionals and will result in 1,000 job offers to women who distinguish themselves through coding and other challenges. The event is sponsored by NTT DATA colleagues in India, and the goal is to increase gender diversity in the IT sector by giving global visibility to promising women technologists.

Support from corporate leaders

I also appreciate the support women receive from company leaders, including executives at our Tokyo-based parent company. NTT DATA Corporation President and CEO Yo Honma issued a statement of support this week, proclaiming:

“NTT DATA will contribute to the sustainable growth and development of society by further promoting diversity, equity and inclusion so everyone is encouraged to bloom, thrive and create new value for the world. We #BreakTheBias.”

In addition, Kaz Nishihata, Senior Executive Vice President for corporate global operations, created a three-part series of internal videos he is sharing with our 130,000-plus team members in more than 50 countries. In the series, he speaks with nine women executives from four continents about the experience of women in the company, how to best support the careers of women, and differences in working styles among genders.

Kaz-san said increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is not a zero-sum game for individuals. Rather, the expansion of viewpoints and experience that DEI brings can serve as an economic multiplier that benefits everyone. He cited research that almost 80 percent of working-age men participate in the labor force compared with 53 percent of women.1 If women participated at the same rate as men, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would increase by $28 trillion by 2025.2 Diversity makes the pie bigger than bias every time!

Roundtable on identifying and overcoming bias

In a March 8 internal roundtable, our employee resource group for women — Women Inspire NTT DATA, or WIN — explored various experiences with bias and effective responses. Our guest panelists were Sharon Harvey (a leader in our Financial Services & Insurance consulting team) and Barry Shurkey (our multi-award-winning CIO and advocate for women in technology). They were joined by Lisa Woodley and Anisha Biggers, who co-wrote our blog on bias in AI and automation. CEO Bob Pryor delivered closing remarks, commenting that diversity makes the workplace better for this generation and helps create a place we would want our children to work.

One of the things that struck me during the roundtable is how infrequently we talk about diversity among women even though we are, in fact, as diverse as humanity itself. Some women represent multiple categories of underrepresented groups. And some women can be bold in difficult situations while others may feel they cannot speak up. Since one of the values of diversity and inclusion is how it brings new ideas and perspectives to the table, it’s important that allies speak up and continue opening doors for others who may not feel empowered.

Women in sports

We ended our celebratory roundtable with a video featuring women involved with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. We share how we break the bias and take action for equity. It’s wonderful to see the increasing roles for women in motor sports (and in all fields) as more women earn positions based on their merit and skills, and continue to #BreaktheBias.

You can see the video here.

1 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, March 2021
2 McKinsey Global Institute, “Navigating a world of disruption,” January 2019

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Mona Charif

Mona Charif is chief marketing officer for NTT DATA Services. She leads marketing, communications, and corporate social responsibility, and is executive sponsor of the Women Inspire NTT DATA (WIN) employee resource group. Mona has more than 20 years of success in supporting brand awareness and growth objectives of Fortune 100 companies including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lucent Technologies and EDS. She holds a Master of Business Administration from the Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas-Dallas and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas-Austin.

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