Sowmya Subramanian: Senior Director of Engineering, Google
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Sowmya Subramanian to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Sowmya Subramanian: I am helping engineer products for all by proactively removing unconscious bias in all stages of product development, via the Inclusive Design initiative.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
SS: When I saw data across multiple industries (software, health, food, photography, fashion, and more) where unconscious biases in products were resulting in not fulfilling the needs of large sections of their target users, and no one had recognized this as a problem or found a systematic way to bridge this problem.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
SS: Demonstrating that this is indeed a problem, such as with more software systems relying on machine learning, many would say "how can machines be biased?" and it took some time to show that the machines were not biased, but the training data used has biases in it. Lack of high quality data—many times we don't have good demographic level data to show where specific user groups are being underserved or the data was misleading.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
SS: By building products to serve the needs of users we have overlooked, we are empowering these users, solving problems that were otherwise ignored, and leveling the playing field, and this inspires me.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
SS: The power to drive change is within you. If you see something wrong, speak up, evangelize and work towards fixing it.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
SS: Sadly, women are still on the receiving end of a lot of bias and limitations; this puts women in a great place to see opportunities to drive innovation that will fix these problems, which in turn empowers women.
Follow Sowmya Subramanian on Twitter.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.