Breaking the Bias with Avast Senior AI Researcher Elnaz Babayeva

Emma McGowan 28 Mar 2022

"Be an inspiration for future girls, encourage them to dream big and help women who struggle now. Break the bias.”

Elnaz Babayeva, Senior AI Researcher at Avast, has always loved math. She was introduced to the PASCAL programming language at the age of 15 and decided she would become a programmer. Three years later, she decided to get a computer science degree. 

“The bachelor was not easy: I thought about giving up every second week,” Elnaz says. “I was one of the worst students, even though in high school I was in the top 5% of the class. I had a language barrier; I was a foreigner with all the consequences.”

But, with time and help from her friends and teachers in the CTU, she was able to complete her bachelor’s degree and even was encouraged to pursue her Masters in AI. Interestingly, out of 100 students in her bachelor program, there were eight girls. Around 50 students got the degree, and guess how many girls finished? Eight. 

“Coincidence? I don't think so,” Elnaz says. “We tried much harder, we spent more time studying, we cared how we are perceived.”

During her school years, Elnaz joined wITches, a program that teaches children robotics, IT, and electronics. It helped her pursue my passion: teaching, and breaking biases for the next generation. wITches consisted of 15 girls, students of Faculty of Electrical Engineering, and it was the safest place for Elnaz in the school since she was surrounded by a community of supportive women. That was her start with D&I activities. 

“We need role models, we need to have women leaders, women senior engineers to help the younger generation understand that women can achieve the same thing as men, and that IT is not the boys club,” Elnaz says. “We need to start breaking the biases today in order to have a fair society tomorrow. And by inviting more women to tech, we are building diverse teams, and it is scientifically proven that it leads to better projects. If you still are not convinced that it is not a problem, please have a look at UNESCO video, why the digital revolution needs to be inclusive.”

Further reading:
Top tips for women who want to succeed in tech
Avast teaches girls to “Code Like a Hero”

Elnaz is passionate about breaking the bias in tech not only professionally, but also personally: she has three younger sisters who are all in IT. She views her activism in the field as helping them; giving them and other young women like them a brighter future. 

“By joining the D&I movement I would like everyone to be perceived equally and to be given a chance no matter what gender, religion, skin color, country, or beliefs they carry,” Elnaz says. “To be able to talk and hear your colleagues with different opinions, help and respect each other, and understand that we need to be united in order to achieve something bigger — those are my goals of a perfect inclusive community." 

In addition to being discriminated against because she is a woman, Elnaz has also experienced  what she calls “positive discrimination.” There have been times in her career when she thinks she was given more opportunities — like job offers, invites to conferences, grants, etc. — because she is a woman and not because of her qualifications. And she didn’t like that, either. 

“The best advice I was given regarding it was ‘Fake it, till you make it,’” Elnaz says. “Work hard, be honest and fair with others and yourself, share the knowledge, be transparent and you will build a road for future women in tech. Be an inspiration for future girls, encourage them to dream big and help women who struggle now. Break the bias.” 

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