Alumna Frincy Clement advocates for women in AI and STEM

Named a 2022 Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100, Clement leads by example — and by empowering those around her.

Donna McKinnon - 12 May 2023

Named a 2022 Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100, Faculty of Science alumna Frincy Clement is a recognized advocate for women in AI and STEM.

Named a 2022 Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100, Faculty of Science alumna Frincy Clement is a recognized advocate for women in AI and STEM.

Frincy Clement (‘21 MSc) has crossed the globe in pursuit of a career that encompasses her passion for problem-solving, not only in business and technology, but more pointedly, in challenging the barriers she has faced and systematically dismantled as an immigrant — and as a woman of colour.

The journey has taken her from Kerala, India, where she was born and raised in a family of girls, to Dubai and finally, Canada in 2016. After putting her MBA and data science background to work in a variety of roles, Clement transitioned her career toward the emerging field of artificial intelligence in the workplace. In 2021, she completed the Multimedia Master’s program in the Department of Computer Science and was quickly hired as a machine learning engineer at AltaML, where she had interned as part of the program’s requirements.

A community-builder and change-maker, Clement has worked tirelessly to empower women, particularly those currently in, or considering, a career in AI. As the ambassador for Women in AI community, she helped to build the Canadian chapter, now at 950-plus members and 50-plus volunteers in seven cities.

“Through all that I have experienced all my life, Women in AI’s mission was the closest to what I wanted to pursue, especially in a volunteering role,” says Clement.

Her work has been recognized with multiple awards, including the 2021 TELUS Connection Honors Leaders of Excellence Award, the 2022 Advocate of the Year at the Women in IT Awards, the 2022 Women in AI Ambassador of the Year, 2023 Top 100+ Women Advancing AI and Top 25 Women in AI - Canada Edition by RE•WORK for her contributions in advancing women in STEM.

Most notably, Clement was named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100 in the category of Science and Technology, which recognizes women in STEM roles who are challenging the status quo for knowledge and female empowerment.

Congratulations Frincy!

The theme of the '2022 Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100' is what does it mean to ‘live your truth.’ How do you interpret this?

My journey so far can be summed up with this quote from Kamala Harris: "Dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they've never seen it before."

Being recognized as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100 is something I never imagined would ever happen in my life. Living my truth is about being persistent and pursuing my passions regardless of the challenges I’ve had to face on my journey and giving back to the community so that everyone can have a better pathway to careers in STEM and AI. 

As a young mother, woman of colour and immigrant it was not easy to make a mark in the Canadian ecosystem. Landing in Alberta in 2016, when technology jobs were not popular and Fortune 500 companies did not have a larger presence, entering my first job was very difficult. Even having a highly coveted MBA from one of the top B-Schools in India (top 2%) and working as a business leader in a recognized corporation in Dubai, my degrees and skill set were not recognized right away after moving to Canada. There were years of struggles to create my own mark in the Canadian ecosystem, and it was disappointing to continue working in roles which were not utilizing my full potential. 

Throughout my education and career in technical and business roles, I was always a minority in the room, whether by gender or as a woman of colour. With continued efforts and hard work, I was able to break those barriers and create room for myself and grow as a leader. While I was transitioning my career into AI, I was a new mother, which meant I had to manage family, work and volunteer activities with sleepless nights and a lot of sacrifices. I had a strong will and passion to pursue my dreams and this kept me going and helped me reach where I am today. 

One of the things I am most proud of is that young girls, women of colour, mothers and everyday women can see a reflection of themselves in me, when they see an immigrant-young-mother-of-colour on the global stage. It was a realization for me as well that everyone has something to offer and if we continue to put our best efforts forward, nothing can stop us.

What made you decide to pursue computer science, and specifically AI?

From my early years, I was always very good at math, logic and problem-solving, and I thought I would be a software developer or engineer. But my career took a new turn when I got the opportunity to pursue MBA from one of the top five B-schools in India. I was the only person in my undergraduate school who received this admission, and this changed my plans to enter a software career and instead I moved into a career in business.

I worked in marketing, sales and business strategy in Dubai and in Canada for about four years, but I always yearned to get back into the world of logic building and problem solving. AI was a field that was up and coming and that was a perfect balance between business and technical knowledge. I realized that if I pursued a career in AI, I could be closer to the technical side but still be able to support business decision making through the power of data and AI. 

Adding AI skills would help me build a 360 degree experience with my business experience and technical knowledge, which is in high demand for organizations that are transforming themselves to catch up with advancements in AI. Hence, I was confident that a career in AI was what I wanted to pursue. 

After pursuing a master’s degree in computing science from the University of Alberta, I got my first job as a Machine Learning Engineer at AltaML. I also had the opportunity to lead a team of data scientists and various portfolios at TELUS Business. I have recently joined ADP as a Principal Data Scientist in their Canadian BI team. 

You are very much an advocate for women in STEM. Why is it important to you?

Being an advocate for women in STEM is important to me because I want to see the day when women are no longer considered a minority in STEM roles. 

Throughout my school, undergraduate education and career I have experienced this myself and had to overcome challenges to advance my roles in a male-dominated industry. Gender stereotyping was something I could see throughout my education, but I was fortunate to be born in a family of three girls where our parents considered education above everything else. I saw role models in my elder sisters who pursued medicine and higher degrees in STEM, which gave me enough confidence to choose the career I was interested in, with great support from my parents. 

A lot of kids my age were not privileged enough to achieve this because the gender stereotyping; boy children being favoured over girl children, still prevailed in the society. In high school and undergraduate studies where I studied computer science, I could only find a handful of girls (<20%) like me in the same class. 

Even after moving to Canada, when I was trying to break into the field of AI, I could not find mentors whom I could relate to, because it was still so hard to find women in the field of data science and AI. In the pursuit of finding a mentor, I stumbled upon Women in AI, which is a global community of women AI professionals, volunteering to advance female participation in AI. Through all that I have experienced all my life, Women in AI’s mission was the closest to what I wanted to pursue, especially in a volunteering role. 

I joined Women in AI and introduced many strategic initiatives to bring the community together and inspire them to pursue a career in AI. It’s been two years since we started the Canadian chapter, and we’ve grown to more than 45 programs and initiatives. There are many barriers faced by women and girls while choosing a STEM career. Knowing this firsthand, I was willing to go the extra mile and come up with programs that have really made a difference.

Even with a full time job and a toddler, my team and I spent late nights and time away from family planning and organizing events that: helped connect talent with hiring managers; connect mentors with mentees; motivate teen girls with AI foundational courses; create role models from who has never been recognized before, gaining partnerships and sponsorships and growing the community; and bring exposure to the community members and their contributions in AI. 

The real motivation for me is the life-changing impact that our initiatives create, and that inspires me to continue doing what I do. The real value is not about the number of attendees or social media likes, but the stories of women who have advanced into their dream careers because we gave them a helping hand, or the girls who got inspired to pursue a career in AI after seeing role models in the field. When you get recognized for these efforts, it is a cherry on the top! 

You also have an MBA. How do these two pursuits work together?

The MBA was not something I had aspired to in my early years, but receiving admission to one of the top schools in India changed my plans. I pursued an MBA after an undergraduate degree in computer science. I believe it was a great decision and the MBA has molded me into a well-rounded person, giving me the knowledge and perspectives of business operations, marketing and strategy. It helped me understand the challenges and limitations for business decision-making because of the unavailability of clean data and clear insights to support those decisions. I also learned the much needed communications skills and how to customize these skills for the audience in front of me, whether they are executives or senior leaders or technical folks. 

Having a computer science background, the transition to a technical role in AI was not entirely difficult. As a data scientist, I was always helping my stakeholders solve business problems with the use of data, analytics and AI. The business experience made it easier for me to understand and prioritize the business problems and communicate the difficult technical concepts into simple language and business terms that my stakeholders could understand and interpret. This helped them to rely and trust the machine learning models I built, and use the results for driving business decisions. In my everyday interactions and problem solving, I always keep my MBA and data science eyes open, in order to best understand the problems and get better support for my business and stakeholders. 

You have worked at TELUS Business and currently work at ADP Canada. Can you talk a bit about what you do?

I joined ADP Canada as a Principal Data Scientist a few months ago. I am learning about the industry and ecosystem, diving deeper into the data and defining my role as I speak. 

At TELUS Business, initially as a Senior Data Scientist, I was part of the Business Intelligence team supporting the marketing function. I built and managed data science models catered to the customer retention, upsell and cross sell. My role started from understanding the data, making the data ready for use for the models, building the models to solve business problems and managing and monitoring them once in production to produce the best results month over month. One of the important projects I led was to find an enterprise AI tool for a citizen data scientist in TELUS. In this project, I had to engage multiple cross-functional stakeholders, across different subsidiaries at TELUS. 

In my second role as a Manager, Data Science & Analytics, I was responsible for building the strategy and roadmap for TELUS Insights, a locational intelligence product for TELUS, serving the public and private sector. In this role, I led a team of data scientists, managed our external client engagements and internal technical and business stakeholders, and supported the portfolio director with financial modeling as we planned to scale the business in the upcoming years. 

Where were you born and raised, and why did you choose the U of A?

I was born and raised in Kerala, India — famously known as God’s own country with its rich natural beauty and cultural heritage. Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India, currently standing at 94 per cent, where female literacy is also at 92.07 per cent. Nevertheless, gender stereotyping was still prevalent in advanced roles that needed cognitive and problem-solving skills. I see a lot of change happening with conscious efforts from the government and universities giving girls and women opportunities to enter careers without being influenced by age-old stereotypes and inherent societal norms. 

When I immigrated to Canada, I lived in Edmonton, Alberta for about six years. The University of Alberta was my first choice to pursue a masters in computing science as it has one of the best computer science programs in Canada, and a very knowledgeable, kind and supportive faculty. When I interacted with a couple of alumni and seniors from the U of A, I came across the Multimedia Master’s program specialization. I had the opportunity to discuss my career goals and interests with the director of the MM program, Irene Cheng, and I was very confident that this was the program that would best prepare me for entering the career in AI as an experienced professional. 

The most attractive aspect of this program was the eight-month internship program in the second half of the program, which is designed for giving the students the industry experience that the hiring managers are looking for in full-time jobs. The first year of the program has a curated list of courses which is very practical in approach and along with the course projects and papers, it sets us up for success for our internship and future careers in AI. Dr. Cheng, other professors and the senior students in the program played a huge role in guiding me to enter a career in AI, which is where I am today.