Women in Voice Spain 1st anniversary event, at Google for Startups Madrid.

Announcement of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Women in Voice

Nieves Ábalos
Sep 22, 2020 · 5 min read

Lee este anuncio en Español aquí, o escúchalo.

Spanish version

It is my pleasure to announce that I am accepting the role of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Women in Voice.

My name is Nieves Ábalos and I live in Madrid, Spain. I am the Co-Founder of Monoceros Labs and Women in Voice Spain Chapter Founder.

Here’s some of my journey and about what Diversity and Inclusion means to me.

From Computer Science to Voice

All my life, I’ve been interested in creating software, in how Artificial Intelligence can help us and in how we can have natural conversations with computers. Since 2009, I have been researching Conversational AI, i.e. Dialog Systems, Natural Language Processing, and Artificial Intelligence applied to conversational interfaces.

With great enthusiasm, I started a Computer Science degree at University of Granada (UGR) in 2003. My first class surprised me: there were only 10 women (8%) in a class of 120 people. When I finished my degree, there were less than 4 (5%) women of 80 who attended the classes. Now, I’m aware that through those years, we faced some sexist situations. Clearly, something wasn’t right.

My thesis was about multimodal home automation software with ASR for people who are blind and differently-abled. There were many barriers to the research since it was very hard to find free ASR for the Spanish language. Training an English ASR system with my non-native and low-proficiency in English was difficult. I continued this research on evaluating dialogue systems and completed a MSc, but left my PhD program to work in the private sector.

From 2013 to 2017, I worked at the R&D department of the BBVA group, the Spanish bank. I experimented with NLP, voice assistants like Alexa in English, and worked as the Product Manager of an Intelligent Agents platform. I learned here how diverse groups can create better solutions. During some years, we were a diverse team distributed by gender and backgrounds. I was proud of how we designed and developed more inclusive ideas and tech projects.

In 2017, I took a sabbatical, starting a nomad life that took me to travel the world. This totally opened my eyes in terms of how technology is present, and how different cultures and beliefs impact how we see the world and what opportunities we have. Our privilege is sometimes invisible even if right in front of us. I started Monoceros Labs with my cofounder Carlos, an innovation studio to create natural conversational experiences for voice assistants (yes, Alexa and Google Assistant) in Spanish, and tried to bootstrap naiz.chat (another long story :D).

Women in Voice and Allyship

In December 2018, I discovered a tweet from Joan Palmiter Bajorek, CEO and founder, talking about Women in Voice. I reached out to her, thinking about how we could expand this community to Spanish speakers. That led us to create WiV Spain, with a first meetup in February 2019.

At WiV, we cultivate a community that is expansive in its thinking around community, inclusion, and equity. What inclusion means in Spain is different from the USA, the Netherlands, Japan, or Mexico. In Spain, running a “Women in” community generally means that men are not included, so some of them think that they can’t attend events. From the beginning of WiV Spain we welcomed men as allies and loved the support that was provided. Inclusion is not a “men problem” and is about a community that is inclusive. Some countries and communities are at different places in relation to diversity and inclusion.

Launching WiV Spain, helped me understand how the Spanish voice sector is evolving and the problems we face as minorities in this tech sector. It’s not only about women, it’s about intersections (intersectional diversity) of backgrounds, identities, and orientations. Minorities are not well represented in our field. Senior women find glass ceilings and find it extremely difficult to get a new job after being laid off. We want to retain this amazing talent. On the other side of the pipeline, there are high-school girls wanting to know about voice technology and wish to study it and join the field.

A diverse community will impact on creating more inclusive voice products. These products rely on Artificial Intelligence for recognizing and understanding users, as well as talking back to them. These models are usually biased (HBR, 2019) and are not well suited for understanding children, older adults, and people with disabilities. Voice assistants also have behaviors that perpetuate stereotypes and gender biases.

At Women in Voice, we want to talk about the big questions:

  • How can we improve our community and be more inclusive?
  • How can we create ways for our members to be more active in inclusion efforts?
  • How can men and allies help us in this journey to equality and freedom to a more balanced, diverse, and inclusive sector?

What motivates me is including every voice in the community, and trying to reach more people and find how they can be involved. Diversity is in our DNA at Women in Voice. Inclusion in the community is our goal, no matter what backgrounds, languages you speak, what culture, if you have disabilities, what your sexual orientation or gender is, what age or seniority you have or will one day achieve. If you want to shape the future of voice tech with us, join us!

Note from the Women in Voice CEO:

It is an honor and privilege to have Nieves stepping into our CDIO role. From Day 1 Nieves pushed us as a burgeoning organization about what inclusion and diversity meant in relation to linguistic diversity and being accessible to Spanish speakers worldwide. As we’ve been formalizing in our second year of existence as an organization, I’ve asked many of our advocates and ambassadors around the world about their roles and how they’d like to be part of the organization moving forward.

Nieves reflected and then pitched herself and her vision about the initiatives and research she saw us needing to make greater strides in. Her ability to provide clear and constructive feedback about our directions has always been productive.

-Joan

Part of the Women in Voice Spain team

Women in Voice

International empowerment nonprofit for women and gender minorities in voice tech.

Women in Voice

International empowerment nonprofit for women and gender minorities in voice tech. Find more about our mission, our team and initiatives at womeninvoice.org

Nieves Ábalos

Written by

CPO at @monoceros_xyz | @WomenInVoice & Alexa Champion | Conversational Interfaces Engineer, building Alexa Skills & Google Actions | pivoting @naizchat

Women in Voice

International empowerment nonprofit for women and gender minorities in voice tech. Find more about our mission, our team and initiatives at womeninvoice.org