Future NSW is taking place on bringing together government, industry, and academia to discuss, imagine and shape the future of government. To celebrate this inaugural event, we sat down (virtually!) with one of Future NSW guest speakers, Kate Burleigh on digital diversity and how we can all play a part in helping create a more inclusive workforce.

Country Manager and Director Amazon Alexa and Devices, Australia/New Zealand, Kate is focused on building the business through both improvements in conversational AI and continuous invention and optimisation of the product and customer experience.  Formerly, Managing Director, Intel Australia/NZ, Kate has 25+ years’ experience leading digital transformation in the consumer lifestyle, retail and ICT sectors. 

What has been one of the biggest challenges you've faced as a female leader in the tech innovation space

Generally speaking, I didn’t notice the bias until I became a leader myself and was witness to the decision-making criteria that was often verbalized around female vs. male leadership potential. I still often hear words applied to females such as “too emotional” and yet similar language is not applied to male colleagues.  The bias seems to relate to how we believe women vs. men should behave and we all need to unlearn those biases to make sure we are not viewing leadership as a gendered trait.

How are you shaping a digital future?

At Alexa, we are working really hard to bring the concept of ambient intelligence to life.  Our vision is for Alexa to be there when you need her and to disappear into the background when you aren’t.  Customers can now do many things such as listen to the radio, ask for their favourite trusted news source, set timers and alarms and turn on lights with Alexa, and she does all those things exceptionally well. However, we are working toward a future where Alexa will become more intuitive and helpful, instead of waiting to be asked to volunteer, “Kate, you’ve left the outside light on, would you like me to turn it off for you?”  I strongly believe that interacting with technology via voice will continue to spawn areas of invention that haven’t yet been thought of.  

What digital innovations are you most excited about? 

I’m excited about any form of digital innovation which allows us to manage our energy consumption or to reduce our energy footprint.  I use public transport so much more often now because I can simply look up the timetable on an app or even ask Alexa, and this cuts down on me opting to drive.  Monitoring energy usage, understanding how much solar I am sending back to the grid, turning lights on or off only when people are in the room, setting my watering system to different times of the day to ensure less evaporation, are all possible because of digital innovation.  We still have a long way to go but I am excited about the role digital innovation can play.

What career advice do you have for women considering a career in the digital technology sector?

Firstly, research or study the fundamentals of digital product design or computer engineering at least at an introductory level so you can better understand the process of bringing digital invention to life. Understanding both the art and science of these disciplines will give you an advantage in all facets of your digital career, even if you don’t decide to go deeply down the product development path.

Secondly, most digital technology looks to solve a problem or to create new forms of delight, so if you are a woman working in the creative sector, it just may be that you can bring a unique perspective or a new way of redefining a problem that our male biased and more engineering centric talent haven’t thought of yet.

Finally, know that digital technology is highly measurable, and this works well for women or any underrepresented minority who are worried about unconscious bias working against them or worried that they do not have the loudest voice in the room.  You will always have data to back your impact and achievements up and there’s nothing more empowering than that.

Join Kate, along with an impressive lineup of industry leaders and experts, at this year’s Future NSW event and register today.