The greatest minds in AI came together at the Women in AI Gala of 2024

After months of preparations the time was finally here! On Friday the 9th of February around 170 of the greatest minds in the field of AI came together at the WAI Netherlands Gala of 2024. The evening was buzzing with energy and the excitement around the Women in AI Awards was very present. Whát a night it turned out to be!

The event was cut into two interesting parts which people could attend. First there was an amazing dinner that took place in the restaurant area of ING’s Head Office. It was the perfect opportunity to network and chat with like-minded people. The dinner was accompanied by the great tunes of saxophonist Susanne Alt, who was able to set the mood for the rest of the evening. 

The second part was the big Award Ceremony. This was the moment where the top 3 nominees that were selected by the WAI community and a special jury would find out who was the final winner. In total there were six Award categories: AI Impact Maker, Responsible AI Leader, AI Entrepreneur, AI Young Professional, AI Researcher and AI Diversity Leader.

Women in AI Gala keynote speaker Sheila Gemin

To do great things

Our first keynote speaker was Sheila Gemin. She is currently the Global Head Corporate Technology at ING, but told us more about her career before that. She had, like many other women in the field, a lot of hurdles to overcome. From being rejected after job interviews for unreasonable things to never being considered for a promotion. Our other amazing speaker, Wendy (Barbara) Morée, als knows of the reality that comes with being a woman in technology. “If you’re a woman, the right chances are not always given.” That is why she thinks that women always have to support women. “In AI, in technology, in life!” The whole room agrees with an ‘Amen’. 

So what did Sheila do? “You might ask: How do you deal with that?” Sheila continued her story. “I didn’t. I left.” She made the decision to leave technology entirely. Fortunately after five years she came to the conclusion that she left because of all kinds of reasons, but none of those reasons had anything to do with the technology itself. So she pursued her career again and is very happy to be back and make an impact! She now works with a couple of hundred engineers to keep all the bank’s platforms up-and-running. Using technology is important, she says, but it must not be rushed. “Because we have a responsibility, we all do.”

The human factor in AI

During her talk, Sheila shared a very moving story about a cancer patient, Lisette. By using data she helped her take part in the ‘Tour for Life’. It was an amazing story about a woman that, defying all odds, finished the 8-day tour. “Whether it is AI, or any other technology, that will come into play.” -Sheila told the audience. “We, as human beings, are able to do great things.” She believes that all the men and women that are working with this new technology have an amazing opportunity. “You guys determine the future of technology.” She finished her talk with some motivational words: “Don’t stop believing in yourself. I know that everything is possible if you put your mind to it.” Wendy is also convinced of the things an individual can achieve by owning what you do.  “If you believe in yourself and speak of what your dreams are, people will go with it.” But Wendy also believes in the power of a community, like the community that Women in AI build. She encourages the audience to always help each other. “Take somebody else with you on your journey.”

The winners of the WAI Awards

But let’s not forget about the moment we all were waiting for: the Women in AI Award Ceremony.  That night we got to present awards to the most amazing female entrepreneurs, researchers, innovators, and contributors in the field of AI that the Netherlands has to offer. Last year, everybody could send in who they thought needed to be nominated and the top 5 nominees were selected based on the number of nominations received and merit by our wonderful winners of previous awards. These top 5 were given the opportunity to share their work with the community at our WAI Summit, where our top 5 was eventually narrowed down to a top 3. At the Gala the winner that came out of these top 3 finalists was awarded with the prestigious Women in AI Award.

Women in AI 2024 Award winners

Anastasia Kuskova (Founder & CEO at Sirus) was the first one to receive the Award. She won in the category ‘AI Impact Maker’. Anastasia’s startup is leveraging AI to drive sustainable transformation in the metals, mining, and mobility sectors. A critical area for the energy transition! “It is really cool to be recognized as working in a complex and unsexy industry, such as mining and metals.” -Anastasia said after she received the award.

The winner of the ‘Responsible AI Leader’ Award turned out to be Noelle Cicilia (Co-founder at Brush AI). As she got to the stage she immediately invited the top 3 to come on stage and celebrate with her. Noelle conducts research on algorithmic fairness methods and how to apply them in a practical way. “If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would ever win an award like this, I wouldn’t have believed you.” 

Next up: the ‘AI Entrepreneur’ Award! This award was received by Rina Joosten-Rabou (CEO at Pera). “I am so surprised! I was competing with a lot of great entrepreneurs with amazing initiatives that help society.” She definitely deserved her win, because with her startup Rina uses AI to match candidates and eliminate human bias in hiring decision-making. Talking about inclusivity! 

We moved to the next category, the ‘AI Young Professional’. “It is awesome to be recognized for a solution that uses high AI technology, but for the most rural areas.” Award winner Enya Séguin (Unit Manager at Delft Imaging) feels great about what it means to be the winner. Enya is making pregnancy scans accessible to women in developing countries. She firmly believes that in women’s health you really need women to be involved. “So I hope more women will feel more comfortable doing this. Because they are very much needed!” 

Our ‘AI Researcher’ winner is Fantine Huot (Research Engineer at Google DeepMind) “It’s a real honor to be here today!” -she states. Fantine is using computer vision to detect wildfires and earthquakes early. What she is mostly looking forward to is sharing her excitement about AI research with the community. “It’s now ranging into a variety of fields.” Since AI has an impact on so many fields nowadays she encourages everyone to pursue how AI would fit into the field that they personally care about.

And last, but not least, the ‘AI Diversity Leader’ Award was given to Cynthia Liem (Associate Professor at Delft University of Technology). “This big acknowledgment that you get for the type of work you’re in is really very special.” Cynthia was the first technical commentator on the childcare benefit scandal in the Netherlands, and raised awareness about algorithmic bias and amplification. She emphasizes the need for people to talk about these topics. “I hope that my story helps the community to share best practices on that aspect of our job.”

We hope that the Women in AI Gala not only helped to start valuable connections, but also sparked important conversations that we need to have when it comes to AI.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2024 Women in AI Netherlands Awards! Like Sander Stomph (Kickstart AI) said: “In order to encourage girls to start a career in AI, we need people they can look up to.” And we hope that by giving a platform to these amazing women we have contributed to that. Thanks for all the participants that were able to come and celebrate with us. It was a night to remember!

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