Industry Leader in Signal Processing and Machine Learning: Mehrnaz Shokrollahi

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Industry Leader in Signal Processing and Machine Learning: Mehrnaz Shokrollahi

Dr. Behnaz Ghoraani

Industry Leader in Signal Processing and Machine Learning: Mehrnaz Shokrollahi 

Director of AI and Advanced Analytics at Royal Bank of Canada, Global Asset Management

Laure Blanc-Féraud Mehrnaz Shokrollahi is passionate about technology and AI, with a special focus on championing women in these fields. Currently, she serves as the Director of Data Science & Advanced Analytics at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Her journey reflects the potential of women in tech and AI, driven by a love for innovation and inclusivity.

Growing up, Mehrnaz's family instilled in her a deep belief in the power of diversity and inclusion. This shaped her perspective on the importance of women's representation in technology and AI. With their support, she embarked on a path filled with curiosity and determination to break barriers and challenge norms.

Mehrnaz earned her Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Toronto Metropolitan University. This strong educational foundation led her into a career spanning over seven years across various sectors, including biomedical engineering, mobile applications, manufacturing, and wealth and asset management. At RBC GAM, Data & Analytics, she leads a talented team, using data science and advanced analytics to drive innovation and empower decision-making.

Throughout her career, Mehrnaz has been recognized for her contributions to women in tech and AI. She was named one of the Top 25 Women in AI: Canada Edition in 2022 and one of the Top 30 Influential Women Advancing AI in 2020. She is also actively involved in initiatives like the IEEE Signal Processing Chapter Toronto Section and the IEEE Women in Signal Processing Industry-Academia Engagement and Education Subcommittee, working to create opportunities for women in these fields.

Mehrnaz's expertise lies at the intersection of AI, machine learning, and data science, and she is dedicated to using technology for positive change. She excels in collaborating with diverse teams to unlock insights and drive innovation through data-driven approaches.

Beyond her professional life, Mehrnaz finds joy in advocating for gender diversity in tech, mentoring aspiring women in AI, and participating in community initiatives to bridge the gender gap in STEM. In her free time, she loves exploring nature, practicing yoga, playing the piano, and engaging in creative pursuits.

Looking ahead, Mehrnaz aims to continue advocating for women's representation in tech and AI, fostering an inclusive environment where all voices are heard and valued. She hopes to inspire the next generation of female leaders in these fields, driving meaningful change and shaping the future of technology for the better.

In the Spotlight: Conversation with Mehrnaz Shokrollahi

1. Why Challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

Throughout my career, I've faced numerous challenges, from breaking into male-dominated fields to balancing the demands of a rigorous academic program and a professional career. One significant challenge was overcoming societal and institutional barriers that often hinder my progress in technology and AI. Additionally, navigating various sectors including biomedical engineering, mobile applications, manufacturing, and wealth management required a steep learning curve and adaptability. Despite these obstacles, my commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the unwavering support from my family, have been instrumental in overcoming these challenges.

2. What was the most important factor in your success?

The most important factor in my success has been the combination of a strong educational foundation and a passion for innovation and inclusivity. My Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering provided the technical expertise needed to excel, while my professional experiences and personal beliefs instilled a drive to advocate for women in tech and AI. Additionally, the support of mentors and the collaborative efforts of diverse teams have been crucial in my journey.

3. How does your work affect society?

My work in data science and advanced analytics at RBC GAM impacts society by driving innovation and empowering data-driven decision-making. By leveraging AI and machine learning, we develop solutions that improve efficiency, and offer better insights for internal teams. Moreover, my advocacy for women's representation in tech and AI aims to create a more inclusive and diverse industry, which I believe leads to more comprehensive and equitable technological advancements.

4. What is the key take-home message you would like readers to remember from this interview?

The key message I want to share is the transformative power of diversity and inclusion in technology and AI. By embracing these values, we not only foster innovation but also ensure that the benefits of technological advancements reach all parts of society. Supporting and uplifting underrepresented voices is essential for driving meaningful and lasting change.

5. Failures are an inevitable part of everyone’s career journey. What is the most important lesson you have learned from dealing with failures during your career?

One of the most important lessons I've learned is that failures are not endpoints but rather opportunities for growth and learning. Each setback has taught me resilience and the importance of perseverance. Embracing failures as learning experiences has enabled me to refine my approaches, develop stronger strategies, and ultimately achieve greater success. It's vital to view failures as stepping stones rather than barriers.

6. Although novelty and innovation are the most important factors technological advancement, new ideas often face significant resistance until proven effective. What advice would you offer on handling such pushback, particularly for those early in their careers?

My advice for handling pushbacks is to remain steadfast and confident in your ideas while being open to feedback and collaboration. Persistence is key, but so is the ability to communicate the value and potential impact of your ideas effectively. Building a network of mentors and allies who believe in your vision can provide crucial support and advocacy. Additionally, being adaptable and willing to iterate on your ideas based on constructive criticism can help in refining and proving their viability. Early in your career, it's essential to balance determination with flexibility and to continually learn from both successes and setbacks.


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