Wisdom From The Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries, With Charlotte Mallo of Clay AIR

Build a reliable team with people who are in the right mindset: a team made of individuals with a strong sense of self, willing to learn and self-improve, who have the ability to listen and to have honest conversations will go far. Accountability and team spirit do well with transparency in communication.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Mallo.

Charlotte is currently the Head of Marketing at Clay AIR, an interaction technology company located in Los Angeles. She has a background in business and strategic design with experience in product development, go-to-market, and B2B marketing in international contexts. She is passionate about cultures and obsessed about reducing waste and food insecurity.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in a very small town of 5000 inhabitants in France, near Germany’s border. I was raised by dad and my grandmother — a feminist and vanguardist strong woman who is still a role model to me now. At 18 after my high school diploma, I studied in Lyon, and then got admitted into a Business School, still in Lyon, which enabled me to travel during my studies. After graduating, I worked in Mexico, Paris, and now Los Angeles on projects related to user research, strategic design, and artificial intelligence.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I have two very different books in mind. Memoirs of Hadrien, by Marguerite Yourcenar. It’s a philosophical and historical novel about the life, death and thoughts of the Roman emperor Hadrien, written from his own perspective at the end of his life. He meditates on various aspects of his life including love, death, power, and ethics. It took the author more than twenty years to collect historical data, write and publish the book, which I think is an example of great persistence.

Something else that strikes me with this book is the amount of emotional intelligence and empathy shown by the author to ‘impersonate’ a Roman Emperor with who she had nothing in common (unless, maybe, the fact that they were both queer and evolved in a male-dominated environment).

Genderqueer, by Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e, em, eir), is an amazing comics memoir. I recommend this book to anyone who is curious to learn about sex, identity, nature, feminism, pronouns, love, relationships, friendships. Self-discovery journeys are complex, chaotic, and personal, but anyone can identify to Genderqueer.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.

I have always been interested in emerging technologies, but what triggered my interest for artificial intelligence was my years at AXA, where I started working closely with the data science team. The ethical challenges that were related to deep learning, data analytics and computer vision were new to me at this time and I remember being struck by a Ted Talk by Joy Buolamwini about bias in facial recognition and its broader implications.

I then started working on conversational AI to design support and customer service bots. I loved learning more on the technology working very closely with the data scientists involved with the program but also on the organizational and change management topics linked to it. This is the most exciting thing about working with emerging technology: taking part to creating a vision, overcoming ethical challengers, and learning something new every day.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?

Most of my experiences were in mid-sized to large companies. Either in consulting, where implementing the strategy we designed was out of our hands, or in larger companies where implementation can take longer than expected. The last three years, I was working, sometimes leading depending on the topic, in global programs with a lot of stakeholders involved. I for sure was identified as the intrapreneur, the one that is not afraid of ‘kicking the nest’ and thought I would do great somewhere where I could do strategy, execution, solo and team work, learning every day. Joining Clay AIR has been a very exciting experience so far. Working with people who are excellent at what they do and have a vision to change the world is inspiring.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Saying ‘yes’ to everything! I have a very curious personality and love doing new things, which is a great quality, but the dark side of the coin is that I ended up putting a lot of efforts into other’s projects without getting any benefits of it. If the person who asks or delegates is not able to appreciate the favor or if the task has no advantage for me in the short and long run, I decline.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

A former boss of mine was an example and a coach as well. I learned from him structure, strategy, politics, but also, how to deal with tough issues. I learned how to measure my emotional involvement and ‘pace’ myself. Another person I am grateful for is a former colleague– she is an incredible woman, a full-time ballet dancer in her free time, who showed me what self-confidence meant by making me rehearse scenarios during lunch breaks.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

With Clay AIR, we are working on a technology that enables people to interact with computers or devices with their hands, without a controller or without the need to touch the device. Interacting with a mouse or a keyboard is not always intuitive (or private), nor is voice interaction, or biometrics. We offer an alternative for these interactions modes to make technology more accessible.

Because we don’t require to add an extra piece of hardware, our technology can work on any device that has an existing camera. This kind of technology can help people with limited mobility interact with devices, robots or smart displays at a distance. When embedded in a virtual reality headset, hand tracking and gesture recognition can be used for rehabilitation and pain management. The technology can also help turning touch screens into touchless interfaces to maintain a level of hygiene in shared spaces.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?

The breakthrough in augmented and virtual reality are made possible by the progress that we have seen in other fields like computing power, artificial intelligence, automation, and connectivity. It is interesting to see how large companies like telecoms, chip makers, and manufacturers around the world are working together to define the next way of interacting with our ‘reality’, especially because it reveals our humanity. Is virtual reality an escape to the many issues of the reality? What are the drivers behind the will of ‘augmenting’ our reality: should we understand ‘improving’ and thus would it mean that we cannot accept the reality (distance, time, entertainment) as it is?

What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

The nature of the impact of a technology doesn’t depend on the technology in itself but on the value system of the stakeholders handling it, so my concerns for this industry are the same than for any kind of technology. What is exciting with emerging technology is that there is no regulation, no codes nor social norms that define what is socially acceptable. Technological progress embeds the social schemes (and thus their flaws) of their period, which today are accessibility, equity, privacy, and transparency. The concern is that technological progress is now moving faster and faster: can we, as a society, keep up?

Two fields that I find particularly interesting are computer vision and artificial intelligence. When they are combined, they can create powerful tools such as supporting doctors in the detection of ealy stage cancers, or for mass surveillance for instance. The boundary between safety/wellbeing and surveillance will have to be defined and touches to human rights.

Artificial intelligence algorithms are biased, which is another challenge. A bias in AI typically privileges one group of user versus another by repeating anormal errors. Our machine learning models and data sets incorporate the biases of their ‘creators’ and those embedded in the dataset used to train them: this is how Alexa performs worse when with the voice of a black woman vs the voice of a white male. The same is happening with facial recognition. Creating diverse teams and data sets is very important to build solutions that are fair. I had the opportunity to chat with visual technologist and artist La June McMillan, who advocates for diversity in datasets through her project The Black Movement Project.

I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?

These immersive technologies will improve the way we collaborate and connect people in a more immersive way than Zoom or Facetime. Teams scattered around the world will be able to work together on complex topics, manipulating 3D prototypes together. Because they bring people together, these technologies will shorten the geographical distance between different people more than ever, and hopefully make opportunities more accessible.

Another way virtual reality can help us at work is through immersive training. It is proven with research that virtual experiences impact our behavior in real life and make us healthier (in a similar way than how social media can impact who we’ll vote for).

At work, augmented reality will make it easier for workers to follow a complex process by guiding them hands free and decreasing the risk of accidents. Virtual reality headsets equipped with tracking capabilities enable precise user research for marketing or scientific purposes.

Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?

VR can be used to train professionals by simulating complex situations and accelerating the learning curve. Osso VR provides training and assessment solutions for surgeons and hospital staff for instance. VR has been used to treat patients with PTSD, support people going through physical therapy from home, or simply workout.

The power of these technologies to provide a sense of immersion and to interconnect people makes services more accessible.

In entertainment and education, VR can really shake our empathy such as in this installation by Alejandro Iñarritú, Carne y Arena, where you end up in the shoes of an immigrant at the US border.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in broader terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? If not, what specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I am not satisfied with the status quo regarding women (women is for me a term that includes everyone who identifies as a woman) in general. According to the OECD, women in heterosexual couples spend 4 hours daily on unpaid work versus 2.5 hours for men. In 2019. Women in average in the US made 17% less than men, and the gap is worse for Black and Hispanic women according to the Current Population Census Survey.

Covid-19 has reversed the slow and steady increase in women in leadership position (from 23% to 28%) observed from 2015 to 2019 worldwide. It is the first time since 2015 that women opt out of the workforce at higher rate than men. Covid has increased domestic violence: in the US, police departments report an increase from 10 to 22% depending on the cities.

In STEM, women are still underrepresented in engineering, computer science jobs, especially Hispanic and Black workers.

There are many ways to tackle the issue, starting with venture capitalists, who can choose to invest in projects led by women and people of color. 28% of startups in the US in 2019 were founded by at least a female member, but only 12% got funded through venture capital. Even though female-led companies tend to perform better (10% more cumulated revenues), they receive in average $1 million less in investment. Diversifying venture capital looks would help closing the gap: three quarters of venture capital funds are male-only (2019).

CEOs and recruiters can choose to recruit a diverse team, with diverse backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, etc. there are many resources to educate oneself, like XRinclusion.org with resources on Bias prevention, inclusive writing and recruitment.

Trends are evolving and there is definitely more awareness than a few years ago, but we have to be patient and non-judgemental. Behaviors are deeply entrenched in our culture, language and systems, a change doesn’t happen overnight. Idealistically, I believe that individuals should not be labeled and backgrounds, gender, sexual orientation or skin color should not matter, but the tag and identification help statistics show where the issue is and enables to track the situation’s solution.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?

Working in the XR industry requires a college diploma or having a computer science background. Many developers or influencers I interact with in the space are self-taught or started in XR as a side project. Antonia Forster for instance (a LGTBQIA activist and Unity developer) started from scratch, Dilmer Valecillos started his YouTube channel on his free time, there are many examples. Working in tech (or in deep-tech) doesn’t require to be extra specialized either because grit and drive will compensate for the lack of technical skills, and bring another perspective to the team!

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I use a few guiding principles as a moral compass to help me navigate through situations or simply make decisions.

Be excellent and professional: ultimately, the evaluation of an individual’s or team performance should be based on facts so focusing on achieving objectives and measure them is a priority.

I am the master of my own time. There is no time to lose in interruptions (manterrupting is more common than you think!) and mansplaining.

Everyone is accountable: reducing the gender gap, increasing diversity and inclusion, and speaking up against (micro) aggression is the responsibility of all. When Ursula von der Leyen was left without a chair at a meeting with the President of Turkey, European Union Council President Charles Michel could (and should) have reacted, but he chose not to, which makes him complicit.

Build a reliable team with people who are in the right mindset: a team made of individuals with a strong sense of self, willing to learn and self-improve, who have the ability to listen and to have honest conversations will go far. Accountability and team spirit do well with transparency in communication.

Self-confidence. Imposter syndrome is real among women, this is why it’s important to rely on facts, while acknowledging the feeling. Seeking mentorship and coaching, as simple as among peers, helps.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I dedicate part of my free time to projects that aim to reduce food insecurity through models inspired from the circular economy and working on gradually reduce my waste and carbon footprint. Technology is not my religion, and I believe more in camels than unicorns!

I would encourage anyone to take part to local politics and organizations: help your local non-profit, sign-up for a city council, offer help to communities.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Angela Merkel, or Jacinda Ardem. They both have their own very distinct leadership style but exemplify the ‘female’ leadership. They care about their people and are able to make tough, unpopular decisions that follow their values, thinking not about their ego but about the greater mission they are committed to achieve. Women do not have to stick to the masculine representation of leadership to lead and be respected, one can achieve a lot putting aside ego and personal thirst for power and prioritizing consensus and transparent conversations.

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!

Wisdom From The Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries, With Charlotte Mallo of Clay… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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