Elaine Weidman-Grunewald: Encouraging Sustainability Leadership with Inspiring Attributes of Progressby Analytics Insight July 17, 2020
Artificial intelligence is maturing rapidly as an incredibly powerful technology with seemingly limitless application. While AI is proliferating fast, it also raises many concerns due to its potentially disruptive impact. Discrimination, privacy intrusion, and social exclusion resulting from the use of AI are occurring more frequently without updated regulation or practical tools to avoid or mitigate it.
One company which focuses on the scaling of AI in a broader ethical and societal context for its accountable use is the AI Sustainability Center. The company was created to help organizations not only choose a fair approach to AI but to also provide practical tools to detect, measure, and govern societal and ethical risks in AI and data-driven solutions.
The AI Sustainability Center works with clients and partners both from the private and public sectors, ensuring human values are at the core of technology decisions. The Center’s partners and clients gain a competitive edge by learning to act proactively and use AI in a sustainable and responsible way. For example the center offers “The AI Ethical Risk Profiler” which scans potential exposure to ethical risks in an organization and in specific AI applications.
A Transformational Leader
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald is Founder of the AI Sustainability Center together with Anna Felländer. At this stage, both founders are very operational and wearing many hats. This ranges from talent management and recruitment to balancing budgets, sales and marketing to product development and innovation.
Sharing her life experience, Elaine says, “in addition to gaining practical business or technical skills, all women should learn how to effectively communicate and debate. No matter what career path you choose, being able to express yourself will always be an important asset.” She also suggests building a “coalition of the willing,” especially if one is in a role that requires change management. “If you have a vision, make others part of it!”
As an advice for choosing a career path, Elaine says, “Try different things. I have been in NGOs, large multinationals, and startups. When you experiment, you can find your strengths and weaknesses, but also your passions and where you can have an impact. And don’t be afraid of change.”
Elaine has spent 20 years working in a large multinational environment, but then left and took the acquired skills to a startup. “In a large organization, people learn the rules of the game, politics, governance, the complexity of the world. It can be exhilarating to take those skills to a different environment, where people can execute assignments quickly and not have the bureaucracy,” she says.
Elaine’s greatest achievement of late is completing a book, Sustainability Leadership, a Swedish Approach to Changing Your Company,Your Industry, and the World. Elaine wrote this book together with Henrik Henriksson, the CEO of Scania. In the book they reveal Sweden’s “secret sauce” for sustainability and share their own perspectives as well as those of some 25 CEOs and experts. The book will be available on the market in September 2020.
An Exemplary Perspective towards Industry Challenges
When asked about her greatest career challenges, for Elaine, not being an engineer in a technical field was challenging. Yet, the perspective that she adds to technical teams has been her edge and a true value-add. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is another challenge Elaine faced during her journey. In tech and telecom, a ratio of 80% men and 20% women is often the norm, and it can be difficult to find female role models.
Moreover, taking time out to have children can set you back years compared to male colleagues,” comments Elaine. “I consider myself lucky to have had my children in Sweden, a country with incredibly generous parental leave packages. I had the financial support, but still, it was a three year pause from my work life. I would like to see a solution where we could level the playing field and minimize such impacts on a woman’s career.”
Vision and Audacity: Vital for Excellence
According to Elaine, a sense of purpose, a vision and an ability to dare are vital attributes of a transformational leader. She adds that leaders should not get distracted and go too broad. “Leaders need to stay focused on results and getting things done. Set goals and deliver on them, and keep pushing forward.”
She also adds “There are two sides to every coin – be sure to understand both. For example, I worked for years developing the platform to illustrate the positive impact that mobile communication can have on society. We called it Tech for Good and billions of people benefited. But I learned it is also important to work actively to prevent “Tech for Bad. That’s where I am focused today.”
In that respect, the world is seeing more and more cases of surveillance, privacy intrusion, amplified discrimination, and bias, in technology driven solutions. That is what led to the creation of the AI Sustainability Center.
“Digitalization means people need to think differently, both in terms of the exponential benefits like revenue growth or cost savings, but it = also means they have a new exponential risk landscape. All future leaders should have the ability to grasp both.”
Seeking New Possibilities to Innovate
The AI Sustainability Center’s products, such as the AI Sustainability Center’s Ethical Risk Profiler and the AI Sustainability Center Framework, focus on solving real challenges that companies face with technology deployment. The center tries to avoid being theoretical and focuses on practical tools built upon many years of multidisciplinary research.
“All industries are digitalizing. Digital solutions have become the fabric of society, but there are still a lot of unknowns. The AI Sustainability Center navigates in a new way to find solutions that mitigate and reduce risks, thereby benefiting people and society,” says Elaine.
The Changing Role of Leadership in the Digital Age
Talking about how AI and ML is impacting today’s leadership, Elaine comments, “We need less managers and more leaders. Work has changed and has become more decentralized so managers need to empower the team. The more digital we become, the more self-reliant we are as leaders, provided we know how to use the tools.” Future leaders need to embrace change, but do that responsibly when it comes to the deployment of technology driven solutions.
‘The Next Sustainability Frontier is Digital’
Every organization is digitalizing – either in order to gain efficiencies and reduce costs through automation or to seize new revenue streams and tailored client relations. Whether it is a big tech company, finance, health, or public sector or NGO, everything is going digital, but there are different degrees of digital maturity. According to Elaine, she wants to see a future where leaders work to create a movement where sustainable AI is the norm, not the exception. Just as leaders need to grapple with climate change and other environmental and social challenges, she definitely predicts that “The next sustainability frontier will be digital, whereby risks like privacy intrusion and amplified discrimination will increasingly come under scrutiny. It’s important to be proactive and get ahead of that,” she says.
An Advice to Build Concrete Skills
As a piece of advice for emerging women leaders, Elaine says, “Women should focus on building concrete business or technical skills – you need to compete with men that have been socialized for example to be better at STEM.”. She also adds “Don’t work for an employer where their values don’t align with yours, that will never be a wining formula”
Elaine is active in Women in Tech and she is also on the Board of International Women’s Forum Sweden. She suggests all budding female leaders should be active in female empowerment communities. “Women leaders should seek mentors and role models early on, have fun and contribute to the industry. And they should support each other!”