The intersection of data and humanity ingenuity is where Serena H. Huang, PhD, PayPal’s global head of people analytics, visualization, and HR technology, continues to find long-lasting success.
Huang is well rounded: her doctorate in economics bolsters her solution-based experience in fintech, food, transportation, aviation, and consulting. But she’s just as interested in artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled solutions as she is in helping her team practice mindfulness through meditation (a practice her father taught her when she was just seven years old).
The data analytics buff’s practice is deeply rooted in the why, rather than the how. “Data is everywhere and that collection is increasing every single year, but I really encourage my team not to focus so much on the data specifically,” Huang explains. “We don’t start with the data; we start with the problem.”
The executive says that understanding the problem and the business strategy is imperative for her team to be effective. Whether it’s an expansion into a new country or into the fledgling crypto space, Huang wants her team to work backwards: lead with the strategy and then figure out what data is needed.
Huang is incredibly passionate about AI’s role in enabling solutions, but she maintains a focus on ensuring that its implementations are ethical and well understood.
“I don’t think you can have truly ethical AI without explaining it,” she says. “Whenever I’m building models within a company, I make sure that it’s explainable for employees. It’s what I strive for and is always my first goal.”
The second goal is to ensure that AI is not unintentionally creating inequity in its application. Huang says it’s imperative to check the impact of AI on segments of PayPal’s global workforce to best understand how to create fairer models. But people are still essential to its application.
“We have to continue to make sure that we’re combining the best parts of AI’s ability to find patterns and process numbers quickly and the human intelligence that understands nuance and context that technology simply cannot at this point in time,” she notes. “In my perfect world, we combine both to create the most optimal decision-making process.”
While Huang’s data exploits are widely regarded, there is another piece to her practice that deserves more attention. While at Kraft Heinz, Huang hosted a meditation session for the company’s thirty-seven thousand employees, and it’s a skill she’s brought to PayPal.
Huang took years off from the meditation practice she learned early in life, but the pandemic reminded her that mindfulness is essential for her to be her best self. She recently led a guided meditation for her PayPal team and, ever the analytics enthusiast, sought out data before and after the practice.
“In times where I’ve led guided meditation in a corporate setting, participants saw at least a 10 percent reduction in their stress level within just a few minutes,” Huang reports. “There is always so much going on that we sometimes forget to focus on things like our breathing. I love the idea of combining mindfulness with data to improve the lives of our teams. Like so much of what I’m passionate about, I think there’s an amazing opportunity to create a better world through data and humanity.”