Driving diversity from the bottom up

January 13, 2022

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Last Thursday, I spoke at an event celebrating the winners of the inaugural TECS competition, co-hosted by the University of Limerick’s new ISE degree (Immersive Software Engineering) program. Stripe, through co-founder and President John Collison, have been instrumental in the development of this new engineering degree, whose goal is to turn “curious and creative people like you into the best software engineers in the world.” 

When I founded SoapBox Labs in 2013 I had three main goals — to build leading edge voice AI, to drive diversity in the tech industry, and to deliver social impact for kids. That’s why becoming an Industry Advisor on the Board of this new ISE course was an easy “yes” for me.

The future of technology will see us move from frequent, daily touchpoints to more deeply integrated digital experiences in every aspect of our daily lives — our homes, schools, work, our health, finances, and travel.

With this ubiquity comes a shudderingly huge responsibility to ensure we build solutions that empower everyone in society, respecting what we have in common, as well as where we differ in terms of age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, and ethnicity. 

This responsibility includes ensuring we build inclusive technology solutions — this requires conceptualizing, designing, and building for the needs of different groups of people, accounting for the  different ways people use and interact with technology rather than the easier “one size fits all” approach we currently see that leaves certain groups behind. 

With the rise of artificial intelligence, we also need to ensure that AI models deployed in products are not built using biased datasets resulting in poor performance for certain demographics. In addition, we need to ensure that the AI systems built do not reflect society’s biased assumptions and norms that cause us to have blind spots or expectations that perpetuate existing societal inequities.

So when it comes to diversity, there’s no time left for platitudes or lip service. Diversity in tech companies has become an urgent necessity — across all areas from engineering to management to boards of directors  

At SoapBox, we have worked hard to build a diverse team that represents four continents and 12 nationalities. This world-class team, which I’m proud to say includes a strong cohort of female scientists and engineers, has been a huge contributor to our success to date. But let me be honest, getting to this point has not been easy, and as a company, we still have a long way to go.

Diversity is an enormously hard problem to fix for any company, big or small. One clear way to address it is to have many more diverse students graduating in software engineering. That’s what the new ISE course at UL is committed to delivering and why I’m personally and professionally supporting it. 

At SoapBox Labs, achieving diversity will always be a top priority. We look forward to welcoming ISE students on residencies to our company and to learning with you and from you, on our journey to building voice AI that improves all kids’ experiences of learning, playing, and being heard in a digital world.

This post is by SoapBox Founder, Dr. Patricia Scanlon.

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