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American Express Company

A Look at Our Event with American Express

On November 14, 2018 American Express partnered with PowerToFly to present our third networking event together. After sold-out events in Florida and Arizona, it was amazing to host an evening at American Express' New York office and the night did not disappoint.

As our guests came in from the cold (there would be a huge snowstorm in NYC the next day), they were invited to receive a complimentary headshot photo (a must when looking for new opportunities) before helping themselves to an impressive buffet spread.

PowerToFly's CoFounder & CEO Milena Berry kicked off the night by officially welcoming everyone and introducing Katrina Roberts, SVP of Technology and Unit CIO at American Express. "This is my second family," explained Katrina, a twenty-seven year veteran of the company. "We work together to achieve amazing outcomes and it does feel like a true team. So that's one of the reasons I've stayed. The second is the challenges are endless. I never stop learning. I'm still learning all the time and I'm always given the opportunity to develop."

When Katrina wrapped her moving keynote address, the audience was treated to a pair of product demos highlighting innovative American Express technology. First up, Shek Lee, American Express Engineering Director spoke about the American Express Chat Bot and the role machine learning plays to help the company deliver customized customer experiences. As Shek explained, "the digital concierge learns your preferences over time and then provides personalized recommendations to help you book your travel."

The next product demo began with a hilarious television commercial starring Tina Fey and featuring Amex's "Pay It, Plan It" tool. American Express Vice President Anna Knizhnik broke down this great feature that allows Card Members to pay for small purchases right away, or make a plan to pay for larger purchases over time.. "People love Pay it, people love Plan it," Anna said. "They can manage their balances and manage their large purchases in a very responsible way. That is one example of the powerful backing of American Express."

Milena then brought back Katrina for a panel discussion where they were joined by American Express technology Vice Presidents John Ahn, Urvashi Tyagi and Divyangi Anchan. After Milena asked the panel some questions, we had a few minutes to open the floor to some very perceptive audience questions. Katrina, who serves as the Global Sponsor for American Express' employee network WIT (Women in Technology) shared how diversity and equality is part of Amex's DNA: "It's about creating safety, comfort, sharing common challenges and creating a sense that we can change things, not just from senior leadership down, but across the organization."

Once the panel wrapped up, our attendees still had plenty of time to network with the American Express team and to ask some more follow up questions. As our guests departed into the soon to be snowy air, they walked away with gift bags and memories of a great night.

American Express is hiring! Follow Amex on PowerToFly to learn more about open opportunities.

PowerToFly's CEO Milena Berry welcomed our attendees.

Katrina Roberts, a twenty-seven year veteran of American Express provided the evening's keynote address.

Shek Lee, American Express Engineering Director, lead a product demo about ChatBot

American Express Vice President Anna Knizhnik discussed the "Pay It, Plan It" feature.

Our panel discussion featuring from American Express: Katrina Roberts, Divyangi Anchan, Urvashi Tyagi and John Ahn.

Divyangi Anchan and Urvashi Tyagi

John Ahn and moderator Milena Berry

Katrina Roberts answers an audience member's question.

Our amazing panel.

Attendees had plenty of time to network.

Attendees had the chance to not only meet members of the American Express team but their peers as well.

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Why Female Presidential Candidates Are Still Told to Be Chill, Not Shrill

The Dated, Everyday Tech Stifling Women's Voices Shows the Importance of Diversity in Tech

"You're not like other girls. You're so...chill."

I've gotten that "compliment" from multiple guys in multiple contexts — and I'm ashamed to admit that until a few years ago, I took it as one.

Occasionally I'd wonder why. After all, anyone who knows me well knows I am the Anti-Chill: a tightly wound stress ball, ready to explode into tears at any given moment.

So what was giving these guys the wrong impression? As it turns out, it was my voice. My cool, unnaturally-deep-for-a-woman, never-shrill voice.

And if I'm honest, I always prided myself on not sounding 'like other girls.' No uptalk or high-pitched squeals of glee from me. I thought I sounded smarter and more serious. Talk about internalized misogyny.

This isn't just me though. There is a societal double bind that forces women to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the right pitch and tone for each situation.

Just consider the advice that Democratic-debate coach Christine Jahnke gave female candidates to avoid being labeled as shrill: "… go slow and low. Very purposefully slow your pace and lower the tone a bit, because that will add meaning or gravitas to whatever it is you're talking about."

In a nutshell: try and sound chill, not shrill.

What I didn't know, until recently, is how this bias against women's natural voices is being reinforced and amplified by century-old technology. (Just one of many examples of how technology designed by and for men ends up hurting women in the long-run.)

Author Tina Tallon explains this little-known fact in her recent New Yorker article, summarized below:

How 20th Century Tech Is Holding 21st Century Women Back

With the rise of commercial broadcast radio in the 1920s, women's voices began getting critiqued. As Tallon explains, station directors asserted that "women sounded 'shrill,' 'nasal,' and 'distorted.'" So when industry standards were set, directors didn't take women's voices into account.

When Congress limited the bandwidth available to each radio station in 1927, station directors set a bandwidth that would provide the minimum amount of information necessary to understand "human" speech.

They used lower voices as their benchmark, so the higher frequency components of women's speech necessary to understand certain consonants were cut, making women's voices less intelligible.

  • Researcher J.C. Steinberg asserted that, "nature has so designed woman's speech that it is always most effective when it is of soft and well-modulated tone." He explained that if a woman raised her voice on air, it would exceed the limitations of the equipment. As Tallon says, "He viewed this as a personal and biological failing on women's part, not a technical one on his."

Why You Should Care

Women have always been told to lower their voices, but this 20th century approach to sound frequencies is still accepted as the standard, literally forcing women to lower their voices if they want to be heard.

  • To this day, many algorithms and speakers distort women's speech by limiting higher frequencies, causing women's voices to lose definition and clarity.

Tallon sums it up well:

"Consequently, women are still receiving the same advice that they were given in the nineteen-twenties: lower the pitch of your voice, and don't show too much emotion. By following that advice, women expose themselves to another set of criticisms, which also have a long history: they lack personality, or they sound 'forced' and 'unnatural.'"


----

So as we continue to grapple with implicit biases against women, from what it means to be "presidential" to who's considered an "innovative leader," let's remember the importance of diversity in tech.

Had a woman been involved in researching/setting the standards for radio frequencies, she might've been able to steer the industry towards a voiceband that would allow men and women to be heard equally well. And perhaps had a more impartial voiceband been established, I'd have heard a more diverse range of female speakers growing up, and internalized fewer biases myself.

That's why we care so much at PowerToFly about making sure cutting-edge companies have diverse teams.

Times were different then, sure, but the fact that Depression Era standards are still impacting how we hear (or don't hear) women's voices is a vital reminder that what we do today impacts our world for centuries to come.

Agree?

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