Women in AI: Shelby Austin
Shelby Austin is the National leader of Omnia AI, Deloitte’s AI practice, where she works with a diverse team of practitioners, from data scientists to strategists to risk specialists, to help organizations solve challenges using AI and machine learning technologies.
What Shelby enjoys most about working in AI is its applicability across all industries to reduce cost, elevate experiences, mitigate risk and maximize return. “AI allows organizations to be competitive and resilient in an ever-changing economy,” Shelby says, and she believes that AI can bring the most value to the financial services, energy and resources, and healthcare industries.
A lawyer by background, Shelby’s career in technology began when she left her law firm and founded a startup that allowed her to bring her two passions together. Shelby credits a happy series of coincidences that prepared her for her current position. “I was inspired to pursue a career in technology by the realization that the world is ever-changing and understanding the bigness of that change. I knew it would be relevant to the future,” she says. Selling her startup to Deloitte positioned her to help others see that same potential.
Working in this field has offered Shelby many exciting benefits, but what brings her the most satisfaction is the people with whom she interacts every day. “I love working with brilliant people. The team is comprised of incredibly talented, curious, kind and funny individuals.” She also relishes opportunities to demonstrate the problems that AI can solve, rather than solely explaining it from a technical perspective. As she describes it: “I try to take people away from the tech aspect of what we do. I try to help people understand that we solve age-old problems using different techniques than we did previously.”
Shelby’s team is well aware that many people are fearful about AI’s overall impact in their work and home lives, topics recently explored in detail in a recent Deloitte report. “Overcoming risk and building trust is important. We must engage in dialogue with people around these perceived fears,” she says. Fear often comes from a lack of understanding, and she sees an opportunity to educate the public and show that their fears are unwarranted.
Peers, friends and other colleagues mentored Shelby during the course of her various careers. “You need different mentors for different stages of your career,” she believes. “I couldn’t have done it without a lot of their advice along the way.” To inspire more women to join STEM careers, Shelby believes in cultivating interest early on: “Girls need to get hands on access to critical mentorship early.” She cites organizations such as Canada Learning Code, which helps all Canadians but in particular women to be literate in coding. “We need to create a more inclusive workspace. Set the tone from the top and make leaders responsible for inclusion, make changes to the system by which we evaluate our leaders, and use performance reviews as an opportunity to discuss inclusion challenges and opportunities.”
In the near term, Shelby is excited and motivated to see AI catalyze growth in Canada. “There is an unprecedented ability to create new jobs and as we get further down the road, we can open new and better opportunities for companies to innovate and solve social issues like climate change and poverty,” she declares.