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Profile: Dagmar Schuller, Co-Founder and CEO of audEERING

Women in Tech: There were one or two obstacles along the way

Dominik Mohilo

© S&S Media

Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Dagmar Schuller, Co-Founder and CEO of audEERING.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Dagmar Schuller, Co-Founder and CEO of audEERING.

Dagmar Schuller, Co-Founder und CEO von audEERING

Dagmar Schuller

Dagmar Schuller, Co-Founder and CEO of audEERING

Dagmar Schuller is the co-founder and CEO of audEERING and responsible for the corporate strategy, business development, and the operational business of the AI innovation leader. She is an expert in digital strategy and innovation, and has been working on (emotional) artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data for over 10 years. With a lot of heart and passion, she led audEERING from an entrepreneurial company to a multi-million corporation, with currently 60 employees at two locations in Munich and Berlin. Before she became the Managing Director of audEERING, Dagmar Schuller worked as a Management Consultant for Ernst & Young in Vienna and New York, and as Senior Vice President for an international investment of the Hubert Burda Media.

What got you interested in technology?

Even as a teenager, I was already preoccupied with neural networks, fuzzy logic, and genetic algorithms. And although the technology was still in its infancy, I believed in the potential of AI. And thus, I — a true native of Syria — moved to Vienna for senior high school, because there they were teaching subjects such as “process control and computer network” as well as “applied data technology” in a higher, specialized technical school for computer science (called “EDP” at that time). These topics were an integral part of the curriculum. As the development of processor technology progressed and computing power was revolutionized, it became clear to me that I wanted to get to grips with AI and its possibilities. My motivation has always been, and still is, to make AI accessible and, thus, usable for people in various — especially everyday — application fields in a meaningful and responsible manner.

A day in Dagmar’s life

I am co-founder and managing director of the Munich-based company audEERING. We are the lead innovator in the field of AI-based, intelligent audio analysis, especially in regard to emotional voice recognition. Among other things, we have developed software that filters out thousands of different features from just a few seconds of audio material. It provides information about the emotion, the state, and the acoustic environment of the speaker. This means that we analyse HOW someone says something, and not just WHAT the person is saying.

It is still very unusual for women to work in the tech or IT sector.

In my role, I am responsible for corporate strategy, business development, and operations. Therefore, no two days are the same and I travel a lot to exchange information with research and business partners on a regular basis, as well as with decision-makers in politics. The aim is always to drive the development of our technology forward and to constantly extrapolate new areas of application. I also speak often at events on the subject of artificial intelligence. Advancing the promotion of AI in Germany and promoting a positive attitude towards artificial intelligence and innovation is a matter close to my heart.

We need more optimism regarding this topic, especially in terms of proper data management, and we need to massively invest in the support for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), and start-ups. This is also the reason why I advise political representatives on various AI issues, and why I am committed to making a supportive contribution to the implementation of the federal government’s AI strategy.

Is there someone you look up to? Are there any supporter?

I never had a classic founder role model like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk. It is not my way to follow a certain role model or to copy someone. As a founder, you want to create something new and you are motivated to develop yourself further, to let an idea blossom into a product. You want to leave your own footprint, which might even inspire others. Therefore, I rather let myself be inspired by individual leadership styles and innovation processes that also suit me and our company.

Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

By all means, there were one or two obstacles – but nothing that could not be moved out of the way. It takes a certain flexibility and sometimes humor to do so. I’ve often come face-to-face with prejudices and people who don’t trust me. It is important to believe in your idea and abilities, to stand up for them, and to handle criticism and prejudices in a constructive manner.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I have learned seven programming languages, including C++ and Assembler, which is a machine language. I used them to program a lot of projects, including so-called “expert systems”. However, I quickly came to realize there are people who program much better and more elegantly than me and, therefore, I focus on my energy on recognizing trends and developing strategies for business models, and the use of corresponding systems.

I want to encourage women to think beyond boundaries.

In the case of audEERING everything began with the research work of the founding team of the TU Munich, where the freely accessible audio emotion analysis technology openSMILE was developed. Due to the great success and our conviction that emphatic assistants and intelligent audio analysis will significantly influence our future, we decided to found audEERING in order to work from the research all the way to the industry. That was back in the year 2012. The audEERING technology recognizes over 50 speech states and emotions such as joy, fear, or anger. The software only needs a few seconds of the speech signal to deliver reliable results in real time. The analysis is based on personal, immutable, and objective speech characteristics such as pitch, voice, rhythm, or melody.

We have a vision to revolutionize communication between humans and machines with our solution by enabling machines to recognize an individual’s state and to adapt its response accordingly. Together with our team, we are constantly developing new areas of application in order to provide the broadest possible access to our technology. In addition to commercial applications such as call center programs or market research, our software is also extremely relevant in the healthcare sector, or in the field of autonomous driving.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

For women it is still very unusual to work in the tech or IT sector. In many places we are unable to get girls and young women interested in these professions. This starts with the early imprinting in schools. Unfortunately, we still categorize girls and boys into classic professions. However, I am convinced that the AI sector will be a key catalyst for change. We are dealing with highly creative processes and ideas here, whose fascination we must make visible to all.

Many prejudices are of a social nature and — fortunately — are disappearing slowly, bit by bit. The focus should always be on suitability, competence, and performance, not on gender. However, I keep noticing that women often stand in their own way. They set themselves limits because they may be so accustomed to it, but they are slowed down in their self-fulfillment. I would like to encourage women to think beyond these boundaries, to keep their ideas in focus and to believe in their own goals. Especially during the founding process, there will always be people — men and women — who put obstacles in your way. This means that you must be creative, find new ways, and not be discouraged by it.

Any obstacles along the way?

I’ve struggled with clichés every now and then in my career. I was less trusted than my colleagues, since I already held positions with a lot of responsibility at a young age. Also, I was confronted with the classic “women and money” cliché. I was in a meeting with investors, when I was asked if I was also capable of spending the money that was to be invested in the company. Certainly, they would not have questioned a man like this.

Envy is also a very significant factor – strangely enough though, the envy comes more from within the ranks of our own gender. For example, it is often difficult for many to understand how a career with a lot of responsibility can be reconciled with a family without resorting to cliché such as “bad mother” or the like. Even the term “career women” seldom has a positive connotation. However, one should not be discouraged by clichés or fixed ideas, but continue to do something to counter them.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

First and foremost, it is an economic necessity to attract more women to the STEM sector. Companies are faced with the challenge of keeping pace with the rapid tempo of technological developments and using them to their advantage. That’s why tech experts are being desperately sought after everywhere. So how can we allow half of the world’s population not to have the same opportunities in these areas?

Do not be discouraged by clichés or stagnant ideas.

In a broader context, this means that Europe will only be able to compete with the US and China in key areas such as AI, IoT, and blockchain if women are equally trained in STEM occupations. This has implications on all levels. Therefore, there is an urgent need to break down gender roles, and this starts at school, as it has already been mentioned. It should be self-evident to introduce girls to technical and scientific topics in equal measure. Unfortunately, this is not the case so far. The image is also of importance. Here, an extreme change has taken place if you consider that during the Second World War programming was regarded as a women’s profession. Since the mid-1990s, the proportion of female IT trainees in Germany has fallen drastically. I hope that women in tech-professions will be as visible and taken for granted as men.

This year we organized Girls Day at audEERING for the first time. The schoolgirls had a lot of curiosity about the topic and I am very happy to motivate young girls to go beyond their limits and get to know professions that they might never have considered.

It is also important to create appropriate structures in order to really reconcile family and career. Companies themselves are called upon to do this, and I am delighted to see that flexible working time models, mobile working, and job sharing are increasingly being offered. This is also part of our everyday work at audEERING. I have deliberately filled areas in the company with women who have children in order to put such models into practice. But such structures are also relevant for men – it’s all about finding the ideal balance. The mood is only good when my employees are satisfied, then we can focus together upon our goal, our vision.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?

I think that it will still take some time until we have achieved complete gender equality. The concept of diversity itself is a very broad one. It is about positive connotation of diversity – personnel-wise and socially. I think that this will always remain a topic in our globalized world, which continues to grow closer together as a result of technological developments. That is why we at audEERING live this credo. We see diversity as a success factor. Innovations are best created in heterogeneous teams with different perspectives. At audEERING, people from 12 nations work together – even remotely – and we have an equal number of male and female employees. We also attach great importance to responding to the individual needs of our colleagues, especially of those of our mothers.

Tips & Tricks

Above all, women should be self-confident and believe in their abilities. They cannot let themselves be discouraged by the fact that the tech industry is male-dominated. In general, it is an very interesting and exciting industry to work in, because of our daily preoccupation with futuristic themes and trends.

 

Author
Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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