Women Talk Tech Episode 61: Ensuring a Humane Future – Empathy and Ethics in Innovation


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Empathy and Ethics in Innovation

Welcome to the show, Lisa Woodley.

On this week’s episode of Women Talk Tech we are joined by Lisa Woodley. Lisa is the Vice President of Customer Experience at NTT DATA, where she utilizes her background in philosophy and psychology to bring empathy, ethics, and the human perspective to technology innovation. In doing so, Lisa strives  to create digital experiences that elevate brands and drive business value. Lisa was a Computerworld Top 100 Technology leader in 2017 and is a Women in IT Digital Leader of the Year finalist for 2020. In addition to her role at NTT DATA, she is an adjunct at Rutgers University where she teaches User Experience Design as part of their Masters of Business and Science program.

When Lisa was in high school, her dream in life was to become a musician in a band that she was in. She attended university where she geared her studies around where she found interest, rather than a prospective career, as she was playing in her band and was determined to pursue the music route professionally. While studying philosophy and psychology, Lisa realized that in addition to music, she found a great level of passion in these fields. 


Within her band, Lisa was in charge of design; she created CD covers, flyers, and promotional materials. Her experience in design for her band worked in collaboration with her day job of working as a designer for a book publisher where she designed book covers. After 10 years of pursuing music, Lisa made the choice to transition into pursuing design as her full-time job, which eventually led her to a career in the tech sector.


Getting Technology Right

In addition to her background in design, another key factor that Lisa carried with her into her career in tech is her love for science-fiction. Throughout her life, what drew Lisa into the world of sci-fi was the way in which technology was imagined and explored.


“That idea of what technology should be – it should be the thing to make life better, that allows us to do things, that allows us freedom – and then the fact that that is not what technology is for us, those two things coming together, with my design ability is absolutely what drives me towards technology.”


So, why is it so rare for technology to reach these science-fiction level expectations we’ve imagined? Lisa points to the fact that technology developers underestimate how hard it is to get it right. Lisa explains that technology developers and inventors come into the user experience assessment with knowledge of how the back-end of the technology works, or they know how they, as experts, would use the technology.  


“They don’t realize how early they need to involve designers in the process. I think designers come in very late to put a coat of paint on it.”


Overall, technology developers look at the tech they create with a wealth of knowledge that a standard user would not have, and often overlook the value of having a real person come in and assess their product.


Annoying or Terrifying: A critical line to cross

Within the process of technology development, designers are often that human perspective, concerned with ensuring that the user experience will be satisfactory. When you lack a design perspective, or you lack the right voices at the tech design table when designing something like a self-checkout at the grocery store, it’s annoying. When the user experience on this type of technology is not good, it’s an inconvenience.


For Lisa, when you lack the correct voices at the table when designing AI, the shift goes from an annoying inconvenience, to downright terrifying.


“You need people who are representing humans. Not the business of: how do we make money? Not the technology of: what is possible? But the [perspectives] of: what will the impact on humans be?”


While advocacy for humans as a whole within the development of AI technology is essential, Lisa then points to the fact that this alone is not enough.  


“As a designer, part of my job is to look at people who are different from me, empathize with them, and then try to figure out what their needs are, and what impacts will be for them. But that empathy only goes so far. You then really need diversity; you need women; you need people of colour; you need people of different socio-economic backgrounds; and people of different educational backgrounds. They all need to come together because empathy works best when it’s coupled with experience.”


Taking Action

As Lisa explores in her episode of Women Talk Tech, diversity in the tech sector is absolutely essential in producing safe, reliable, and quality technology products and services. To learn more about how to future-proof your business and take the necessary steps to achieving gender parity in the tech sector, get the free Women Talk Tech Taking Action Plan.



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