[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Aishwarya Srinivasan: An AI pioneer who is creating a legacy for women in STEM
A data scientist at Google Cloud, Aishwarya Srinivasan is helping women break barriers in STEM.
For Aishwarya Srinivasan, the journey of working in the male-dominated bastion of data analytics, and the larger space of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), started during her days in school.
She currently works as a data scientist.
“My mother was in the data analytics space herself, so there also was a lot of positive reinforcement of getting into the space,” says Aishwarya. Engineering was, thus, an obvious route for her.
However, while Aishwarya was keen on research, she wondered if academia would be the right step for her.
After obtaining a postgraduate degree from Columbia University, Aishwarya, went on to do several internships before realising that her best bet would be to focus on building products rather than pursue a research and academic route.
Before joining Google Cloud, Aishwarya worked at IBM for over two years. There, she was working on developing responsibility systems, ensuring that the data science systems or the AI (artificial intelligence) systems fit with the target industry.
In 2021, Aishwarya launched Illuminate AI, a platform that connects people from the AI community.
"I started my mentorship programme by mentoring a few people through LinkedIn. The idea was to onboard more people like me who are interested in helping folks. These people could, in turn, be mentors in the future,” she says.
The community then grew to add more people.
“It escalated with educational resources, responding to pain points, for instance, when I was a student, nobody told me that you need to understand business perspectives, you need to understand that data quality is a major issue, you're not going to always get the clean, normalised, you know, packaged CSV files for your analysis,” she explains.
Aishwarya is also a part of AI for Good.
“Every engineer has goals and targets and are purely focussed on the product and building it. They aren’t experts in sociology, psychology, and can only focus on the tech aspects. We have no idea of the ill effects of the tech we are building. We believe that any tech company should have the right person who are not only building cutting edge technology but also understand the impact of their technology,” she says.
The data scientist also works towards encouraging women to explore the world of technology. Women in tech are a still a rarity and often face barriers to get into STEM fields.
While Aishwarya did not face any open biases, she says she faced several unconscious ones.
“Once I was sitting with one of the executives and I just walked into the room for a project. They just turned back and asked: ‘Hey! Who are you looking for?’ I said, ‘I'm part of the project. So, I just came for the meeting.’ They exclaimed, ‘Oh, you're a data scientist.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ To which the listener reacted, ‘...You don't look like a data scientist.’ I was baffled. I wondered: ‘What are data scientists supposed to look like?’ So, that's an unconscious bias,” shares Aishwarya.
The problem is more pervasive among underprivileged sections where young girls lack access to STEM fields.
To women, she advises, “Be selfish. This is your life and you have to understand what is best for you, what is that one thing you want to do every single day of your life. And if that means more effort, then put in the hard work. It is your life, and think about it. You should be your first priority.”
Aishwarya is an ambassador for the Women in Data Science community, originating from Stanford University (California). She has also been featured as a LinkedIn Top Voice 2020 for Data Science and AI.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti