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International Women's Day Keynote Speech 2019

Institute of Managers and Leaders, Australia | New Zealand

Annelies Moens, Managing Director, Privcore

Annelies Moens keynotes at IML's IWD 2019 on artificial intelligence and women

Annelies Moens keynotes at IML's IWD 2019 on artificial intelligence and women

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Thank you Lauren, and thank you to the Institute of Managers and Leaders for inviting me to speak today. I am super excited to be here at our International Women’s Day Great Debate.

The recent World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report, which shows Australia in a downward trend in the rankings since it started in 2006, for the first time includes emerging gender gap risks relating to Artificial Intelligence - AI. The gaps within the AI talent pool are significant, often as much as three times larger than industry gender gaps. Overall, only 22% of AI professionals globally are female.

So, why did this new insight from the World Economic Forum resonate with me?

I attended an all girls’ high school and studied computer science all the way through high school alongside many other girls. We all loved the subject – most of us continued studying IT at University. We were puzzled, because when we turned up to our first IT classes they were full of young men. That was the first time it entered our minds that IT was a subject that other young women may not have considered.

In my second year of University, I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship at a prestigious American University to study IT for a year. Again, I recall entering my first class, running a little late, where everyone was already seated and there were no other women. The men were equally surprised to see me. I stuck out like a sore thumb that year, not only was I female, I was younger than the men and a foreigner. I ended up taking postgraduate classes in AI and machine learning.

What is striking about IT from a historical perspective is that there were many female programmers and pioneers, including Admiral Grace Hopper. One of her creations was making a programming language closer to ordinary language so that it could be used by non-technical people, thus opening the practice of programming to the business world.

The lack of diversity today in AI and related disciplines is showing up in the everyday products we use.  Take, for example, your mobile phone and consider the default voice assistant on that phone. We hardly ever bother to change default settings – so I’m guessing that your voice assistant is most likely female, and therefore without you realising, it reinforces the feminised roles of “assistants” in the workplace. We just have to look at the gender ratio of tech roles at the companies creating these technologies to see how clearly the gender bias is reflected in technology. More than 75% are male, a percentage consistent with the statistics from the World Economic Forum.

New technology is being developed without diverse talent, limiting its innovative and inclusive capacity and is reintroducing bias, discrimination and reinforcing stereotypes that we have long been striving to eliminate from our workplaces.


Since completing my studies, my career over the last two decades has been interdisciplinary – crossing IT, law and business, in government, not for profit and private sectors and focusing on developing a privacy profession. Indeed, we increasingly live in a data inter-connected world, where we have to think more consciously about the data footprints we leave. We need to take back personal autonomy and control over technology because our data shapes predictions that technology makes about us.

My vision is to make privacy core business, a discipline as integral to business and government as finance - with the chief privacy officer role as important as the chief financial officer role. This is because today, much of the value of an entity lies in the data it holds.

I love challenging stereotypes:

  • I was the first female President of the International Association of Privacy Professionals in Australia and New Zealand which I co-founded, and all Presidents following me have been female.

  • My husband works full-time and cooks 4 nights a week and does the laundry whilst I manage the finances in our household.

  • I am a Fellow of both the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Institute of Managers and Leaders through which I took the Chartered Manager accreditation – I was one of the first Chartered Managers in Australia. I chose to undertake the accreditation to have a third party assess and provide objective feedback to help me determine whether I was on the right management and leadership track. This was especially important, as I was considering a management buyout of the company I was working in at the time.

My recipe for success is to know what you want and define your purpose – it will be different for everyone – so don’t compare yourself to others. Work smart and take strategic risks. If you don’t define your own success, you may find at the end that you have climbed someone else’s mountain.

I urge you also to engage with, and to influence, the design and regulation of the technology that is affecting us.  As Angela Yvonne Davis, an American political activist, academic, and author said: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”    

Thank you.

Interview with Karyl Estrella, Institute of Managers and Leaders: Leading ladies weigh in on gender balance

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