Leadership for tech transformation: A conversation with John Higginson

August 15, 2023

    leadership for tech transformation with John Higginson

    In our first AI to Z podcast episode, Anna Frazzetto, Airswift's Chief Revenue Officer sat down with John Higginson, the CTO at Chief, a company dedicated to reshaping leadership by connecting and supporting women executive leaders worldwide. Their conversation touched on the importance of gender diversity in tech, the rapid technological trends, and the ethical considerations surrounding AI.

    Listen to the full episode below: 

    A personal connection to gender diversity

    The podcast began with Anna highlighting their shared passion for uplifting women in the tech industry. John's commitment to gender diversity stems from his personal experiences. Raised by a single mother who was a restaurant owner, he grew up with a unique perspective on gender roles. Entering the tech industry in the 90s, he noticed the stark gender disparity, which felt unfair and unequal.

    From a business standpoint, John emphasized the importance of tapping into the entire talent pool, recognizing that diversity in the workforce leads to better business outcomes. By embracing gender diversity in the tech industry, companies can benefit from a wider range of perspectives, ideas, and problem-solving approaches.

    "If we aim to create the best products for our diverse customer base, it's counterproductive to exclude half the population when seeking talent," 

    Challenges and solutions to promoting gender diversity in tech

    The push for gender diversity in the tech industry is not just about equality; it's about harnessing the best talent. Research shows that diverse teams are more effective, particularly in problem-solving. Moreover, companies with diverse leadership and teams have a financial edge over their counterparts. 

    Despite efforts, there's a clear gender divide in STEM education. Freshman classes are more diverse than senior ones, pointing to existing biases and barriers for women. In the professional realm, women often grapple with unique challenges, from isolation in leadership roles to societal expectations around family care. A notable example is the reluctance of some companies to hire women who took breaks for family reasons, assuming their skills have become obsolete.

    Addressing these issues requires a two-pronged approach: bolstering education to inspire young women towards STEM and fostering a supportive environment within companies to help them flourish in their careers.

    The evolution of technology

    In 2023, with language models like ChatGPT and Bard entering the fray, the spotlight is now on generative AI and its ability to automate routine tasks, aid in software engineering and even assist in customer service.

    Alongside these emerging trends, existing technology continues to evolve with mobile technology becoming increasingly user-friendly, as showcased in tools like Google Suite and Microsoft Office. 

    As technology progresses, the issue of cybersecurity becomes increasingly pressing. It is no longer just about defending against potential attacks, but also about understanding the psychological tactics employed by hackers to target their victims.

    Amidst all of this, CIOs and CTOs must contend with the challenge of implementing new technologies. Enhancing the customer experience without overwhelming them with the intricacies of the underlying systems is a major goal for businesses. According to Higgins:

    "It's less about specific technologies and more about effective ways of working and having the right team to navigate these changes," 

    Understanding the ethical and societal considerations of AI

    Generative AI models are heavily reliant on the data they're trained on, leading to significant ethical concerns. Intellectual property issues are emerging, with companies like OpenAI facing lawsuits over the use of copyrighted information.

    Bias in AI training data is another concern, with early facial recognition systems displaying racial biases and current models potentially showing gender biases.

    From a societal perspective, the rise of AI is reshaping the job market, continuing the evolution from artisanal tasks to automation, with potential implications for employment in various sectors.

    This shift is evident in industries like automobile manufacturing and software development, where automation brings benefits but also challenges, especially for those whose roles are being transformed or made redundant.

    The future of jobs in tech

    AI's progression will undoubtedly influence the job market. We're already seeing how the automation wave has transformed industries, with car assembly now largely automated and components like 3D printing becoming standard.

    In the software industry, roles are becoming more collaborative. The rise of AI introduces capabilities like auto-generating code from design inputs, hinting at a future where a UX designer's vision is directly translated into functional apps by AI.

    The rapid evolution of technology undoubtedly brings numerous benefits in terms of efficiency and safety, while also giving rise to new roles and opportunities. However, this progress also poses challenges for professionals who find themselves in the midst of this transitional phase.

    A parting thought on the essence of tech leadership

    As the job landscape evolves, adaptability is key to thriving. For Higgins, the focal word for 2023 is "humans." Regardless of the role in tech leadership, the core remains people-centric, emphasising the importance of humanity in our interactions, decisions, and technology choices.

    Key takeaways

    • Diverse teams have been shown to excel in problem-solving and are more effective. Financially, companies with diverse leadership and teams perform better than those without. 

    • There are both pipeline and support system problems for women in technology. Women often face unique challenges in the workforce, from being isolated in leadership roles to societal expectations about family care responsibilities.

    • Diversity is essential to driving operational excellence and bringing new perspectives into the workplace. 

    • The focus has shifted from Crypto and Web 3 to generative AI. However, with emerging technologies come challenges in implementation and potential pitfalls.

    • The threat landscape is evolving, with phishing attacks becoming more sophisticated. As businesses become more interdependent, trust becomes a complex issue, making cybersecurity a growing concern.

    • For CIOs and CTOs, aim to enhance the customer experience with technology, making it accessible and intuitive. It's essential to strike a balance between agility, security, and avoiding over-complication.

    • Data is central to generative AI, and the models are only as good as their training data. Concerns include intellectual property issues, bias in training data, and the societal impact of AI, especially concerning jobs.

    • Regardless of the role of technology, it's crucial not to forget our humanity and always put people at the forefront.

    Article and quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity

    This post was written by: Leanna Seah, Content Manager