Women in Artificial Intelligence: Self-reflection Through Key Questioning [ARTICLE]

Loren Mahon tells you what to ask of yourself as your career moves forward

Seth Adler

Oracle's Loren Mahon shares her philosophy around four key questions which have helped her throughout her unbelievably successful career...

With AI an ever-changing, growing, and defining field it can sometimes be difficult to choose which avenue to take as we are navigating the opportunities that may present themselves to us. I have found self-reflection an important part of my career success. Whether it is evaluating a new position or project opportunity, or evaluating my current progress or lack thereof, understanding my own perspective on myself through thoughtful questioning has been invaluable. I have developed a set of four questions that I use for myself and with others that are fun and may provide another way of thinking about your talents.


The first is what is your superpower? When you think about superheroes they have some unique gift or power that they use regularly with ease to solve problems. What is your unique talent that you use with ease regularly?

Usually this is something you have done since childhood, like you were born with it. It just comes naturally to you. Have you always been a planner, the one that relishes the chance to organize a party, an activity, or a project? Maybe you are a natural social connector, pulling people together, including new friends or teammates or colleagues. Perhaps you are a knowledge broker, quick with the needed in depth information on the rules of the game, the details for the project, or the latest statistics on a trend.

Take some time to identify your superpower. Remember this is the primary talent you will bring to everything you do, so if there’s not the ability to use it you will likely be unhappy.


Along with your superpower you have gathered other skills and talents along the way. These you have learned through education or experience. What is the one you and others value the most? I call this your ‘celebrity talent’. It is what you are known for, what people go to you for because you have a proven record of success when this skill is needed. This talent often reveals to you what you value in your definition of success and sometimes what you use as a measure of success in others. It is an ability you admire in yourself and others and invest in developing and perfecting.

What is your celebrity talent? Is it the ability to inspire others through public speaking or teaching? Perhaps it is a talent for creative solutioning with limited resources or being able to bring a team to consensus on an issue or problem. The more detail and examples you can identify of how you use this talent, the better able you will be in articulating it in an interview or conversation about an opportunity you are interested in.


Self-reflection needs a mirror and it is close friends and family that can be that mirror for us. So my third question is what do your ‘besties’, the people that know you the best, say about you? I have found that when I propose an insight about myself to my closest friends it’s like getting a view in a magnifying mirror, the blemishes are revealed or I realize they are just freckles.

Listen closely to the encouragement you get from those that know you well. They are often revealing your hidden talents, things you may not identify in yourself, or areas you need to stretch yourself to build more confidence. Similarly if you get repeated skepticism about something you think you do well that may be revealing a blind spot in your own self-assessment.


The final question is what kind of problems do you like to solve? As with your superpower this question is critical to ensuring a good project or job fit for you because not being able to work on the kinds of problems you enjoy can leave you feeling unfulfilled. When reflecting on this question don’t just think about the things you enjoy at work, but also what you spend your free time on also. Do you like solving crosswords or doing jigsaw puzzles? Maybe you are a weekend gardener or you like DIY tasks. Perhaps you are an artist or train for athletic competitions. These hobbies and activities can provide insights to this question.

Solving puzzles requires the ability to see how parts fit together, getting to a specific solution where you have well-defined boundaries and outcomes. Gardening requires observation, patience, and nurturing to see transformation take place. Do you like problems that require repair and fixing or ones that focus on creating something new. Maybe you love problems that require personal endurance, discipline, and healthy competition to achieve success. The problems we love to solve are the ones that feel like play and where time flies when we are working on them. They float to the top of our to do lists.

The corollary to this question which also provides insight is what kinds of problems do you not like working on. They feel like drudgery, you avoid them, and they move to the bottom of your to do list. While you can’t always avoid them you wouldn’t want these kind of problems to be the primary element in a project or job opportunity.

So here are the questions for you:

  1. What is my superpower?
  2. What is my celebrity talent?
  3. What do my besties say about me?
  4. What problems do I like to solve and what ones do I avoid?

I hope you take some time periodically for the valuable task of self-reflection and enjoy these questions as a way to get started. The better you know yourself, the better you will be at identifying the opportunities to say “yes” to and the more fulfilling those opportunities will be.


This is especially true for Women in artificial intelligence. Why? Because the field is not yet well-defined, in terms of job definitions, required experience or education, and even what silo in a company those jobs may fall in, we have the opportunity to help define what working in this field can be, for ourselves, and for future women who choose or fall into AI as a career.

By understanding our own unique talents, bringing them authentically to roles and tasks in a field we are helping to define, it might just be possible to create an inclusive and diverse AI workforce out of the box. One in which girls see themselves working in the future and where a variety of superpowers and celebrity talents can be combined in ways we haven’t thought about yet.

So have fun with the questions but also share them with the girls in your life. Who knows...they may be a co-worker sooner than you think.


Looking for more advice from women in AI? Check out these top tips from Camilla Kwong.

Or listen to Loren Mahon's recent podcast with AIIA.net here: