How changing recruitment processes transformed gender diversity at Intent HQ

By Sharifah Amirah, Chief Client Officer at Intent HQ.

My experiences in the technology sector began over 20 years ago in South East Asia, at a time when you could count the number of women in the industry on one hand. I had virtually no peers and this dynamic, coupled with very traditional, patriarchal cultural norms, made gender discrimination an almost daily event. Here’s a classic example. I remember working in Seoul, exploring broadband technologies and being asked to a meeting with a leading provider. Due to having a gender-neutral name, they hadn’t expected me to be female and predictably, they refused to deal with me directly and asked to speak to my boss.

Five years later, I had moved to London and things still hadn’t moved on. After completing my Master’s degree at the London School of Economics, I joined Frost and Sullivan as an analyst in their telecoms research practice. I recall speaking at a conference on teleconferencing, a very cool topic back then. Afterwards I was propositioned by a group of male delegates. Would I have been approached like that as a man? Definitely not, and countless other women will have similar stories to share about their experiences of gender discrimination in the early tech sector too. These encounters have driven my passion for supporting minority groups to get ahead in the tech industry and helped me to develop what I describe as a ‘fetish’ for resilience.

One of the most powerful changes I’ve witnessed has been the move away from the ‘quota mentality’. In the early part of my career, I took a couple of sabbaticals to work with the United Nations Development Programme in South East Asia, where a key milestone was to implement a quota system to encourage more women at decision-making levels. There was

strong political pressure to do so despite the absence of foundational frameworks to address the inherent social inequalities that prevail in many developing countries. The systemic challenges make it difficult for women to reach their potential and remain active in the workforce. Today, there is more recognition of these challenges, with many companies adopting more family-friendly policies and blind recruitment processes, as we have done at Intent HQ.

The transition to home and hybrid working brought about by the COVID pandemic has accelerated positive structural change toward how women are regarded in the workplace. Since the lockdowns, there's a greater appreciation for the value of maternal and domestic care – responsibilities that women are still predominantly taking on – and this change has leveled up expectations for men and women in the workplace. COVID has also resulted in shining examples of female leadership being more effective in leading organizations through very turbulent and uncertain times. It has opened up the dialogue of broader representation within boards, across governance bodies, and at senior decision-making levels.

Above all, one thing that proved especially effective at Intent HQ was our recruitment process. It allowed us to attract not only amazing, talented data scientists but also those who are women and with diverse backgrounds. We have honed a three-stage process that is working very well, which is designed to put people at ease from the beginning so that they can shine. We begin with an introductory interview, to excite people about what we do, how we help our data scientists continuously learn, give them challenges and really emphasize the opportunities to grow. It’s a forum for interactive discussion about data science, and it enables us to gauge the caliber of candidates without having to make them feel awkward. The second part of our interview is the technical phase, which is an online assessment that can be completed in the applicant’s own time – again, deliberately to put them at ease - and the last part is where we look for cultural fit with our values. Experience has shown us that excellent candidates tend not to perform well at early cultural fit stages because they're not necessarily able to present themselves as well as ‘non-diverse’ applicants. This is especially true for minority women, who might not perform as well as men, but actually, their problem-solving and actual data science skills – the core technical ability - is sky high. So now we make sure we assess that first, because it's the hardest thing to find.

In the past three years alone, we've gone from a pretty masculine environment, as I like to refer to the industry, per se, to one where we've been able to recruit more women. We hired 25% women in 2020, 31% last year and 51% to date in 2022. I think it's a great testament to the work of our people team, the diversity initiatives that we put into force, but also the recruitment process. We’ve done a phenomenal job in attracting females and diverse talent to our business.

Looking beyond gender diversity within my organization, one of the things that really motivates me about working in the AI sector as a whole is the potential that our technology offers for eliminating biases and helping to promote opportunities for minority groups. There are divided opinions about the ethics of AI, but when it comes to diversity, I genuinely believe it’s a force for good. More recent developments in AI have shown that by being able to identify minority groups, we are not only able to understand them better, but also train the models to eliminate bias through sub-population models. Also, in some cases by

excluding certain data sets to then validate against. It is very exciting to think about what AI can do in terms of promoting minority group interests and influencing wider policy change to address those systemic inequalities that remain prevalent today.

About Intent HQ

Intent HQ is an AI analytics platform company that enables service providers, such as telecommunication companies, to leverage previously untapped subscriber data to significantly improve marketing campaign lift and generate new revenue streams through data monetization. Unlocking customer intent, our proprietary privacy-safe platform uses advanced AI and machine learning to draw on detailed insights gathered from a diverse array of behavioral data sets. This allows our clients to take marketing and customer experience to a new level of personalization, while completely preserving privacy and compliance. Nominated as one of the fastest-growing companies on the FT 1000 ranking, Intent HQ is a global team of 100+ data scientists, digital marketers, CRM experts and psychologists with operations in London, New York, Barcelona, and Lisbon. To learn more about Intent HQ and its range of products, go to www.intenthq.com.

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