Female CEOs and founders may be more common than ever, but the CEO gender gap remains frustratingly wide at 17:1. And in the STEM industry, the gap becomes more of a gulf.
For instance, from an outsider’s perspective, AI is still seen as an area that’s best guided by men. Ironically, people working within artificial intelligence (AI) say otherwise. A full 71% believe women bring unique perspectives to the field. Sixty-three percent believe having more women in AI would help remove bias from products and results.
Kerry Goyette would agree with those findings.
Four years ago, Goyette entered the AI space. She was CEO of a rapidly growing firm that wanted to use AI to accomplish its increasing number of initiatives. Fast forward to today, where she leads her firm’s newly launched sister company, Two Story. Two Story provides innovative solutions built on the fusion of AI and behavioral science (Goyette’s area of expertise). The company’s performance analytics products enable businesses to leverage machine learning (ML) to make more confident hiring decisions, unlock employee potential, and develop leaders.
Two Story presents a novel way of looking at the old problem of how to engage and encourage team members without burning out their spark. However, Goyette discovered though the market was hungry for future-forward, AI-driven ideas, she had some unique obstacles to overcome. And they had to do with her gender.
Responding to “But You Don’t Fit the Mold”
According to Goyette, the first male venture capitalist (VC) she met with to talk about the seeds of Two Story couldn’t accept that she wasn’t a 28-year-old man. Other male VCs echoed similar sentiments, including that she was “distractible.” What they didn’t realize was that Goyette was on a mission and wasn’t easily daunted.
Determined to build products that coupled algorithms and psychometrics, Goyette bootstrapped Two Story to profitability. “People thought I was crazy,” she admits. “It was clear to me that this was where the future was going. I jumped in with both feet.”
Goyette’s risk-taking may have seemed unusual, as women have long been labeled as more risk-averse than men. However, as her actions show, what seems like risk externally may be more measured and calculated. Goyette was very clear on the direction she wanted to take: Honoring the human while adding value to the field of AI.
Overcoming Challenges Caused by AI Fear, Confusion, and Concern
Her message struck a chord. Despite early criticism, Goyette began to be recognized as a top AI CEO, which meant she also had to navigate murky waters. As she notes, AI can be very polarizing. People frequently express skepticism — including those who are familiar with AI.
Case in point: one VC tried to talk her out of moving forward with tying AI and behavioral science together. Debating why she shouldn’t enter the AI and behavioral science space, but making every point, in conversation, as to why they should enter the space. Ultimately, the VC admitted it was a good idea, but still refused to support it. That conversation and others like it just proved to Goyette that she was on the right track and couldn’t back down. “When smart people are making your points for you and telling you it’s a bad idea, you figure you’re probably onto something,” she chuckles.
Goyette addresses critiques of AI-fueled performance analytics by operating with full transparency. Two Story’s explainable algorithm is transparent and explainable by design. Her team’s first priority is making ethical AI. Rather than being a “marketing gimmick,” Two Story’s transparency is simply the way the company works.
And the work is what Goyette cares about. As a dynamic, hands-on CEO, she aims to help others prioritize people with their work. “This isn’t just helping organizations,” she says. “I have found that leaders unintentionally burn people out. They don’t know what truly drives performance so they try 27 things. The work we’re doing is so important for the whole system. We eliminate what doesn’t matter and help teams to focus on what does. We’re not burning them out; we’re helping them drive meaning and purpose so they’re motivated to make an impact.”
Bringing Together Women, AI, and Leadership Roles
Goyette is not the first female CEO, nor is she the first woman to join the AI startup realm. Nevertheless, she’s blazed a trail by leveraging her behavioral scientist roots to reimagine a new use for AI. She’s also an inspiration to other women who may find it difficult to get started on their journeys because of the underrepresentation of women in CEO roles.
The good news is that female CEOs such as Goyette tend to support one another. Goyette credits many female CEOs, including Sarah Hill of Healium, for their friendship and support. During a Renaissance Weekend, she met Anima Anandkumar whose work in AI has revolutionized the industry. Goyette calls Anandkumar both humble and inspiring.
There’s little doubt that as time moves on, more women, including those working in AI, will have “CEO” after their names. Leaders like Goyette are making it possible by showing gender shouldn’t be limiting. Instead, all visionaries regardless of gender should feel limitless about the opportunities that lie before them.