Deciphering complexities: Tasha Austin-Williams’ path to AI leadership

Tasha Austin
Tasha Austin

The AI revolution is sweeping across industries with the ability to automate tasks and reshape entire landscapes. From factories to health care, AI’s influence is undeniable. Governments, too, adapt to AI-powered policies, streamlining services and tackling complex issues. In this whirlwind of change, visionary leaders rise. They navigate the intricacies of AI to ensure its ethical application and revealing its potential for a better future.

One such leader is Tasha Austin-WilliamsPrincipal at Deloitte & Touche LLP (Deloitte)—a distinguished professional with over 25 years of experience in professional services, particularly within Deloitte’s Risk & Financial Advisory business. Tasha’s knowledge of AI and advanced data analytics is indispensable. Her career journey spans diverse domains, from commercial and federal financial statement audits to fraud detection and analysis. She has left an impactful mark in areas as varied as national security and international affairs.

At Deloitte, Tasha assumes a pivotal role in guiding endeavors within the dynamic domain of AI. Her distinctive contribution lies in pioneering innovative, insight-driven solutions that help clients catalyze profound transformation for their core missions. As the Executive Director of Deloitte’s Artificial Intelligence Institute for Government, Tasha leads the charge in bolstering capabilities and thought leadership in pivotal domains, particularly in trustworthy and ethical AI for the public sector.

Tasha is a visionary shaping the discourse on AI and its implications. Her speaking engagements cover a diverse range of topics from AI and public policy to the ethical implications of AI. Through her experience and insights, she is preparing for a future where AI is a force for positive change.

Additionally, empowering Black business leaders and institutions is at the heart of Tasha’s role on the Board of NABA Inc. As Chair of the Strategy, Innovation, and Technology committee, Tasha spearheads initiatives to help propel NABA Inc. into a tech-enabled organization. Her visionary leadership is driving the implementation of cutting-edge AI technologies, increasing operational efficiencies, enhancing member experiences, and amplifying market impact. Tasha’s unwavering dedication and experience as a Black woman in AI exemplify the pivotal role she plays in helping to shape the future of NABA Inc. and champion for diversity and innovation in the industry.

A journey of passion

Tasha’s journey through academia and into the world of AI leadership is fueled by a profound love for mathematics and problem-solving. From her days in grade school, she found herself drawn to numbers and equations, serving as the statistician for her school’s sports teams. “I’ve always loved math!” she exclaims.

This passion led her to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics during her college years. Early in her consulting career, Tasha made a name for herself as a data analytics leader, adept at untangling complex data puzzles. Today, she stands as a prominent figure in the field of AI leadership, her brand exemplifies innovation and excellence.

Tasha’s Ph.D. journey was ignited by a deeply personal experience as a young mother in college. Her research focuses on harnessing AI to identify and mitigate potential human bias, particularly in Higher Education and with financial inclusion. “It’s about leveraging technology to address disparities,” she emphasizes. Through a combination of machine learning algorithms and rigorous analysis, Tasha’s work aims to unravel systemic biases and promote greater inclusivity.

Fashioning the future

Tasha is deeply committed to fostering access and opportunities, dedicating much of her time to community involvement as a catalyst for change. “I’m passionate about creating access and opportunities,” she affirms.

Her enthusiasm extends to the potential of AI for positive impact, particularly in addressing complex societal challenges. From equity in education to global human rights issues, Tasha sees AI as a tool for meaningful change across various sectors. “I’m excited about the potential of using AI for social impact,” she states.

In her professional endeavors, Tasha eagerly anticipates leveraging AI to help tackle significant community issues. “I look forward to my contributions in AI to address a really big and complex community issue,” she remarks.

On a personal level, Tasha finds comfort in retail therapy and she sees great promise in the fusion of AI and fashion. As a forward-thinker, she is enthusiastic about guiding her clients toward the future of emerging technologies, particularly where they intersect with AI. Through this, she aims to enhance citizen services and drive transformative progress.

Setting the vision

Tasha’s leadership philosophy centers on fostering collaboration and trust among leaders, empowering them to succeed collectively. “My leadership philosophy is focused on engaging leaders in a collaborative way that establishes trust,” she explains.

She emphasizes the importance of setting a clear vision to tackle clients’ most pressing challenges and providing experiences that instill a sense of purpose. “I strive to set a vision that clearly articulates how we can help our clients address their most challenging problems,” she says.

Breaking down barriers and helping others to achieve results during times of uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are key attributes that remain important to me as a leader,” she adds.

Furthermore, Tasha is committed to inclusivity, promoting the concept that all voices should be heard and valued. “Being inclusive and serving as a sounding board and voice for those that otherwise go unheard is a role that I find critical in the way I show up as a leader,” she affirms.

Her dynamic energy and ability to build diverse, high-performing teams serve as a driving force for transformative leadership. “My infectious energy, renowned for building high-performing diverse teams, serves as a catalyst for transformative leadership,” she shares.

Balancing theory and practice

From Tasha’s viewpoint, navigating AI solutions is a meticulous process. It commences with a deep understanding of the underlying issue, meticulously weighing AI’s potential advantages against existing alternatives. “This is a nuanced process, beginning with a thorough understanding of the problem at hand,” she emphasizes.

Should AI be a viable option, the subsequent phase involves precisely outlining project objectives and scope. Tasha underscores the importance of collaborative interdisciplinary teams, amalgamating technical prowess with domain-specific knowledge. “Collaborative interdisciplinary teams, encompassing both technical and domain-specific expertise, play a crucial role,” she asserts.

Iterative prototyping and testing are pivotal for refining theoretical models in real-world contexts. Tasha stresses the significance of effective communication throughout this journey. “Core to this journey is effective communication,” she affirms, highlighting its role in translating theoretical insights into actionable strategies and fostering feedback loops for continual enhancement. Ultimately, this dynamic interplay between theory and practice helps achieve successful implementation and cultivates a culture of ongoing learning and adaptability.

Embracing change and cultivating resilience

In sharing her personal story and leadership journey, Tasha’s primary message resonates with resilience and growth. She emphasizes, “Challenges are not roadblocks but stepping stones, through perseverance, adaptability and continuous learning, we can navigate any journey.” She aims to inspire audiences to embrace change, cultivate resilience and recognize setbacks as opportunities for powerful comebacks.

When discussing AI, Tasha’s goal is to underscore its transformative nature. “AI is not merely a technological evolution but a transformative force shaping our future,” she asserts. She stresses the importance of embracing AI as a collaborative partner in innovation, highlighting its potential to augment human capabilities, solve complex problems and drive positive societal change. Tasha advocates for a mindset that views AI as a catalyst for progress, urging responsible and ethical exploration of its vast possibilities.

The ethical crusade

In navigating the ethical landscape of AI, Tasha’s inherent inquisitiveness emerges as her guiding force. “My inherent inquisitiveness becomes not just a trait but a sweet spot for me that propels the journey,” she reflects. She thrives on challenging the very core of AI development through thoughtful questioning, each aimed at decoding ethical intricacies.

Questions such as the robustness and authenticity of data, and the depth and diversity of datasets, drive her exploration. “How robust is the data, and does it authentically represent the complexities of the problems being addressed” she queries. Tasha delves into the dimensions of diversity within datasets ensuring they reflect real-world scenarios.

As a guardian against bias, she challenges accountability mechanisms and transparency. “Are individuals attuned to the nuances of bias, and how do they hold themselves accountable for it?” Tasha challenges decision-making processes, explainability of the logic behind AI-driven outcomes, and measures to safeguard user data. “How robust are the measures to safeguard user data and what protocols are in place to protect against potential breaches?” she asks.

Quality assurance is crucial, prompting Tasha to inquire about data validation processes. “How rigorous is the data validation process, and what measures are in place to detect and rectify inaccuracies and hallucinations?” she questions.

By integrating these and other inquiries into the AI journey, Tasha aims to help her clients cultivate an ethical framework where every facet of development and deployment is understood. This fosters a culture of responsibility and transparency in AI innovation.

Inclusivity and collaboration for innovation

Facilitating effective collaboration among diverse stakeholders necessitates more than mere coordination—it requires a cultural transformation. Tasha emphasizes that by embracing and celebrating diversity, fostering open dialogue where every voice is heard and listened to further prioritizing shared goals over individual agendas, collaboration evolves into a powerful force for innovation.

It’s about creating an inclusive environment where every voice matters,” Tasha asserts, emphasizing the importance of turning differences into a source of strength rather than a challenge. This entails establishing a dynamic ecosystem where differences are not just acknowledged but celebrated.

Furthermore, Tasha underscores the significance of instilling a culture that recognizes the unique value each stakeholder brings to the table. She highlights how this collective journey toward shared success hinges on fostering an environment of inclusivity and mutual respect.

Equitable access, inclusive learning

Promoting diversity and inclusivity in the AI ecosystem is a foundational philosophy incorporated into every aspect of my strategy.” Tasha places upskilling at the forefront, highlighting the importance of equitable access to AI knowledge. She emphasizes the need for an inclusive learning journey tailored to diverse learning styles.

She champions the deliberate pairing of non-technical professionals, with a particular focus on women, alongside their technical counterparts. Tasha explains that this approach helps break down barriers to entry and bridges the gap between theory and practice.

Tasha extends her commitment to inclusivity across all professional tiers, from students to seasoned leaders, to help cultivate a collective consciousness and insatiable curiosity about the ethical and responsible use of AI. Ultimately, Tasha aims to foster a culture where diversity isn’t just welcomed but is integral to the very fabric of AI innovation, so that every voice is valued and heard.

Approach to staying current

Embarking on a dynamic journey through academia and industry, Tasha’s Ph.D. expedition delved deep into the field of AI and emerging technologies, providing a foundation for comprehensive research and understanding.

Actively participating in professional networks, engaging with industry publications through her leadership role in Deloitte’s AI Institute for Government, driving her research and leadership with NABA Inc., and contributing to open-source communities have been essential components of her commitment to staying current on the latest AI trends. This multifaceted approach has been further enriched by her new role as a visiting professor in AI and public policy at Cornell University, offering a distinct intersection of academic rigor and real-world impact.

Collaborating with specialists, including her team, attending conferences and participating in forums keeps her abreast of cutting-edge advancements and fosters a dynamic exchange of ideas. As she continues this journey, the integration of hands-on experiences, continuous learning through online platforms, and active involvement in technology conferences is how she remains at the forefront of the rapidly evolving landscape of AI.

Inspiration and wellness

Tasha draws inspiration from her late mother, whose resilience and fervent encouragement to ‘keep going’ continue to guide her personal and professional journey. “First, my late mother remains my ultimate source of inspiration,” she reflects, acknowledging her mother’s incomparable strength.

Beyond her professional pursuits, Tasha finds personal inspiration and fulfillment in fostering holistic well-being. She maintains physical fitness through intense workout routines and enjoys attending sporting events, particularly football and boxing matches, alongside her husband. Furthermore, fashion and shopping, especially for dresses, serve as creative outlets and forms of self-expression for Tasha.

Quality time with her family, whom she considers her strongest support system, brings Tasha a sense of fulfillment. Traveling allows her to explore diverse cultures and perspectives, enriching her life. Engaging in community impact initiatives, focusing on the digital divide, and supporting those in need through charitable giving are essential aspects of Tasha’s commitment to social responsibility.

Finally, high tea sessions serve as strategic pauses for Tasha, creating moments for reflection and rejuvenation. These varied pursuits contribute to a balanced and fulfilling life for Tasha, where personal well-being, family, community impact, and a touch of glamour blend seamlessly.

A responsible future

Tasha’s aspirations for the future of AI innovation revolve around a dual focus on equity and responsible use. She explains, “Within my professional space, I aim to drive unbiased AI applications that help to solve international and educational challenges.”

Furthermore, Tasha expresses aspirations outside her workplace, including a focus on helping to address societal issues such as women’s health.

Her overarching vision entails a future where “AI not only pushes technological boundaries but also becomes a force for positive social impact, promoting equity and responsible innovation.”

Passion and purpose

To aspiring individuals, particularly women, venturing into the dynamic realm of AI, Tasha’s advice emphasizes the significance of passion and purpose. “Embrace your curiosity and let it guide your journey,” she advises.

She underscores the importance of cultivating a strong foundation in AI fundamentals through education and hands-on experiences. “Cultivate a strong foundation in the fundamentals of AI,” she stresses, acknowledging the value of mentorship and sponsorship from seasoned professionals who can offer guidance and support as well as provide exposure and opportunities in the field.

Tasha reminds aspiring individuals that their unique perspective is a valuable asset. She encourages that diversity of thought fuels innovation in AI. She urges individuals to let their passion serve as the driving force behind their contributions to the transformative landscape of artificial intelligence.