Episode Six: Women in Data

We Explore the Gender Imbalance in the Data Industry and Why Curiosity Is Key.

In this special episode recorded at the Women in Data conference in London, we speak to co-founder Roisin McCarthy about the ways organizations can encourage more women into data related roles. We also hear from two of the inspirational women named in the 2019 ‘Twenty in Data’: Laura Bonnett from the University of Liverpool and Indi Birak from Fujitsu.

Listen here or subscribe.

Read full transcript

The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 6: Women in Data

Guests: Roisin McCarthy – Women in Data and Twenty in Data awardees, Laura Bonnett and Indi Birak.
Interviewer: Louise Cavanagh, Communications Director, Dun & Bradstreet

Louise
Welcome to a special episode of the power of data podcast coming to you live from the Women in Data conference in London. It's a very inspiring, empowering event today, and especially being here as a woman working in the industry. It's just great to be here. I'm delighted to be joined by one of the event organizers, Roisin McCarthy. Well Roisin, it's great to have you with us today. I know this event today has gone from strength to strength and started off with five years ago now I think, could you tell us a bit more about the Women in Data story and how it all got started and what inspired you guys to set it up.

Roisin
So I'm one of the Co-founders with Rachel Keane, and the inception happened in 2014. And the reason being was Rachel and I were looking at our performances as headhunters. We've been recruiting between us collectively for 30 years in data. And we were looking at the performance of our most successful year today. At that point, we'd placed more people than ever, we were working with more organizations, we had more diversity in roles in data. But we had a look at one of the KPIs and we were looking at the gender split. And what was totally frightening was that we had placed less women in 2014 than we had at the beginning of our careers, when we were raw, when we were rookies. So Rachel and I were totally stunned by this. And actually, the first thing, the first call to action for us was, what are we going to do to change it? And we decided to link together a stealth group of female leaders in our space, to really start to understand the push and pull factors, what's happening in the industry, and it was really evident that not only women weren't joining our industry, they were leaving too. So Women data was born. And we originally had 125 members. we fast forward on to now. We're 25,000 strong today we have 1200 Women in Data in attendance today for what is the largest or female data event in the UK, which is really exciting. We have gone strength to strength and it's very much about for us connecting, equipping and enabling the women in our community to ensure that they can strive and move forward in their careers, and encourage the next generation.

Louise
It's such an inspiring, empowering place to be as a woman today. It's like you go out there, it's a sea of red. And there’s loads of people, loads of energy. It's an amazing event. It's really good. The other thing I wanted to ask you about was in the Women in Data story over the last five years, what's been your proudest moment or achievement?

Roisin
There are many, so many. Rachel and I've been invited to Downing Street twice to represent Women in Data which was just the most phenomenal experience but we were representing our community which was supremely powerful, a very proud moment for us, but I think that when we look back over the last five years, there's been many, many highlights. But the stories we are hearing coming through the ranks and coming through the community is how empowered the community is to strive forward. And those small stories, people getting promotion, putting themselves forward, ensuring that they've got the right mentor. All of this is equipped and enabled by women in data. And that is a continuous moment of being proud. Because it is relentless. It continues. And yeah, I think that that's probably an overall highlight, seeing the effective change that has been made by WID.

Louise
Yeah, a lot of the people we've spoken today already mentioned the importance of having a sponsor or a champion. Or even just peers that help them have that confidence to ask for what they actually deserve to have in the workplace. And that's something that's come across several times today when we've spoken to people. I think it's a community like this that helps people it gives them that confidence to do something that might be out of their comfort zone or just take a step to make their career their own.

Roisin
Absolutely very much so.

Louise
There's so much stuff here today. There's great speakers and brilliant, practical sessions and people to help them take that next step. Obviously, we've moved a long way, but it's quite a challenge

Roisin
Was a long way to go.

Louise
What do you think our the key barriers that are still out there, for our listeners in terms of business leaders, and people who are leading data functions, what can they do to help move that change forward even further?

Roisin
I'm conscious we've got limited time. But I'll give you some highlights if that's okay. Yeah, organizations need to fundamentally look at their attraction and retention methods. Because men and women approach the job search very, very differently. Women are more likely to be referred to a job by 55%. So that is either been referred by a friend or a colleague or through a headhunter, whereas that's only 22% for men, they're more likely to apply directly to jobs. So if an organization is only putting a job advert out there, they're already shortening their chances. Have a balanced shortlist. So if you're looking to build a team, I think that those fundamental actions have got to be really considered and lots of different methods have to be applied to ensure that they are balancing their teams up front. The other thing that we know from our research with Women in Data is that they are really seeking far more than recognition of role and salary. Flexibility is massive. Organizations are not offering flexible working in data. It's not happening. And I've personally placed 3000 people in roles in data, both men and women. In 20 years now of recruiting I have only ever negotiated 10 part time contracts, 10. that is simply saying that these opportunities aren't out there for women, and that's why they're leaving the industry in their droves. So that's something that industry really needs to think about. And these roles can be flexible. They can flexibly work, we've got technology at our fingertips, we can work remotely, we have the opportunity to plugin, and organizations are missing a beat on this. It's the number one thing that women are looking for when their job searching now,

Louise
That's really interesting. Something that was echoed in the other conversation today was the point around flexibility. Why do you think it is that the data industry may struggle in particular and has been male dominated? We know there's other industries like that, tech in general and financial services that are male dominated…

Roisin
Absolutely. Well, I think the embarrassing thing of what you've just mentioned there is that we're a relatively new industry. In the last three decades, this industry has really commenced, and there shouldn't be these legacy issues. Now rewind the clock back to 2000. When I was first recruiting, I was evenly placing men and women also the aspect of it not being a glamorous role was the case then it was a backroom role. Then you see the rise of the data superstar, the Rockstar, the Ninja, and suddenly we are seeing men assuming that role, and women with imposter syndrome quite often and this feedback we're hearing shying away from those roles. So I think that there is a cultural aspect to it. And it needs to be embraced by those who are taking these roles and really empowered to showcase that it's a place for both men and women.

Louise
Yeah, that's really interesting. Now the CTOs are on the C suite level, whereas before, that wasn't the case in the data. It's much more like at board level. That's a really interesting perspective,

Roisin
And only 3% of women are holding those roles.

Louise
Another final question as I know, you've got to get back to the conference and on stage, what do you think of the type of skills that people are looking for, has this spec changed what's actually been recruited? Because obviously, we've got much more automation, much more technology in the world, but there's still an element of the people that's required, and it feels that it must have changed quite significantly.

Roisin
Well, it has I mean, the thread is still there that we need people who are curious, that's always been part of the spec. You need to have the ability to identify and then be able to be vocal with that and be able to deliver that insight in an effective and compelling way. That's always been a thread in the profession. But I think that, you know, we rewind again, a decade ago, the majority of data roles were backroom, and those individuals that had to deliver the insight probably only had one senior stakeholder and an organization to deliver them to. Now everybody wants insight, everybody needs answers in a commercial context. And as we're seeing that demand increase, so significantly, we are noticing that people haven't been trained and equipped to be able to do that one mass. So the skill set is still the same, the analytical thinking, the literacy, the programming, aptitude, those things are what I want for a data practitioner, but the ability to deliver measurable, interesting insights is absolutely vital. And I would absolutely suggest to anybody who is considering a career in data, be looking at your soft skills alongside those programming those technical deep dive analytical skills, soft skills are equally as important

Louise
I know you've got to get back. So I will wrap it up there. And thank you to Laura and in the answer machine, and it's been brilliant to be involved in the conference today and look forward to year six next year.
I’m joined by two of the Women in Data ‘Twenty in Data’ awardees for 2019. Let's start with LauraLaura is a medical statistician at the University of Liverpool and gives a whole new meaning to using data for good. It's great to meet you, Laura.

Laura
Hi

Louise
Could you tell us a little bit about your career to date? And about how you use statistics and data in your career?

Laura
Okay, so as you said, I'm a medical statistician, so I'm primarily interested in analyzing data from clinical studies. So we've got lots of data of people who have chosen to be included in studies and followed up over a long period of time. And I use that to develop what are called clinical prediction models. So we're trying to predict an outcome for people with chronic conditions like epilepsy, you're asking So for example, is somebody going to go into remission, so stop having seizures, or somebody's going to not cope very well on treatment, and we're trying to make those sort of predictions. So to get to being a medical statistician, I did maths and further maths a level. And then thought math was quite cool. And so chose to do math and statistics at the University of work as a four year degree. And then I decided I'd had quite enough of studying and so really wanted a real job to earn some money. So I got a job as a research assistant at the University of Liverpool. And about six months into that the character was dangled about doing a PhD. Maybe other any exams No, definitely not. Okay, then. So am I then chose to do a PhD part time alongside my full time job. And so since then, it's been a series of postdocs, including one from what's called the National Institute for Health Research. That's quite a prestigious fellowship, which was really exciting. And then I'm now what the university call a tenure track fellow. So probation Electra, so one day I might get permanent contract.

Louise
Sounds amazing. puts my career into perspective anyway. And I think it's really interesting to show the different uses that data has. Because especially with what we do, you kind of think about it in a commercial sense, but actually, there are such massive, vast uses an application of data. And it's really interesting to hear.
And I forgot to say earlier that I should say that both Laura and Indi are recipients of the award. It is being announced today. So congratulations to you both. Today is all about women in data. So Laura, just another question to you, the industry that you work is a specialized area, what's the gender balance like and how is it for you as a woman coming into that career, have you come up against any barriers?

Laura
So if you were to walk into the department, I work in the department of biostatistics, about 75% of employees are female. But that's really unusual. And it's awesome from my point of view, because, you know, it's unusual to be a man in our department. But actually, if you go to many other medical statistics departments across universities, it's not bad actually. It's quite a good field for having a good gender balance, but what you tend to find is that the professors tend to be male, whereas the PhD students and the postdocs tend to be female. And there's some work to be done around ensuring that women can make the full transition to Professor.

Louise
Right. You talk about this very passionately and I know that's something that Roisin and Rachel have talked to me about you guys. So Indi is the managing security consultant at Fujitsu. So again, similar question to you. IT has been traditionally male dominated, I think it's fair to say. So what's been your kind of career path into the job that you're in now and how has gender and diversity influenced that?

Indi
So I work in information security and cyber security, and I actually completely fell into the career. I decided to do a Business Information Systems degree on the basis that it was a time when it was really starting to grow. It was a lot of degree options coming up, and I thought, well, actually, this is a really good career choice today. icon. So actually gender didn't play any part in, in my option. It was just, I can make money in this career. So I'm going to follow this route. I happen to do a student placement that took me into working in information security team. And information security was something that we hadn't actually studied as part of our degree. I had no idea what information security was all about. But actually, during the course of my student placement, I learned so much about industry good practice standards, working with the team to actually get a certification for that standard for the organization and departments we were working in, and really understanding actually, why are we not thinking about the security of the data that we're using, and I decided that actually that was a career choice I wanted to make. So after my degree, I went and did a master's in security and organizational risk management and I got a job as a security consultant. And that was a small boutique and then I moved on to working where I am now at Fujitsu. And actually is only through being part of, you know, Women in Data at this point that I've actually taken stops look back at my career and realize that each time I was interviewed for a role, it was by a woman. And I was recruited into the roles by women. And certainly my initial role on my student placement, it was very balanced the team, it just happened to be quite 5050, male, female within this team that I worked in. So actually, for me, initially, I didn't see it as an issue because there was balance in front of me. as I progressed in my career, I started going out to conferences, it suddenly became very apparent that it was really spot the female in the room and then spot the sort of ethnic minority female in the room on top of that, and I just saw, why is that and I think certainly for information security, as I said, I wasn't aware it was a career option at that. point, I think it's about raising awareness to people. It and information security in itself is such a broad spectrum people just think it is one thing, but actually there's so many specialisms within that we need to raise awareness of that so that girls who are making decisions about careers are being able to make them in a really informed way. And there are people who are visible role models for them to look at and aspire to trigger that thinking of actually, I didn't think that that was a career option for me. I might think of that because certainly, I wasn't necessarily a very technical person. And I didn't want to pursue programming at that point in my career. So by stumbling into information security, I found a passion that I didn't as I didn't know existed. So this platform here, Women in Data and being one of the 20 is a really great opportunity. For all of us to really highlight and be visible role models, and demonstrating the broad spectrum of roles that are available in the area of data, to inspire young girls, I've got two daughters, and I want them to make informed decisions about what options they've got out there in the actually, there's no, there's no stereotype, really, it's only what we've cast ourselves. You know, a woman can be an engineer, just as much as a man can be a makeup artist. It's just about what you're good at and what you enjoy. And it's about breaking down those barriers. And I think the more visible role models we have, the more it will make that change in culture, and empower the next generation and hopefully eradicate some of the challenges and issues that we're facing today.

Louise
Yeah, that's really good point and I've got a young son and, and just the stuff that he comes out with now I've actually heard him say girls can't be policeman, Mommy, I was like, Well, actually, Yes, they can. Yeah, and it's just I don't even know where he gets it. Yeah, he has got a working mother as well. It's just it's a challenge to turn that around. But something that I think we all have to be really passionate and behind to change and make that change.

Indi
And I think that's where that change will come from is when we start to educate from a really young age, I know that a lot of initiatives target girls that sort of GCSE and a level. And that's great, because that's when you're making some really important decisions. But actually, I think we need to take it back. My youngest is six, and they absorb information. I'm not sure I've absorbed information the way that that my kids do nowadays. And we need to get them at that age and actually start making them aware, because they're already so tech savvy at such a young age these days. We need to start planting that seed right from the start that anybody can be anything they choose to be the only barriers are the ones they create for themselves. And I think that we have to use these platforms to really help break down that barriers for the generations to come and make it easier for those of us who are, you know, in that career field today and supporting other women who want to come back to work after career breaks or career changes.

Louise
Definitely. And we've spoken to a couple of the 20 Award winners today. And it's just, it's incredible, just with three or four people, the breadth of industries and roles and how data permeates through so many things in our lives and our personal lives and our business lives. Today, it's been really inspiring for me to sit and listen to lots of women talking about their career journeys and their passion for ensuring that balance. And I know we haven't got much time with you guys, and it's a busy, busy conference day that I don't want you to have to miss out on the sessions that are taking place. So just had one final question for you both if that's okay. We talked about you know, the young women coming through considering different careers, would there be one piece of advice, or something that you've learned along the way that you could leave with our listeners?

Laura
Gosh, that's a tricky question, isn't it? One Piece of I hate the word advice, because it suggests that there's just this thing and it's gonna, you know, if you if you do that one thing, it'll fix the world. But my dad always used to say to me read the question, and I was really skeptical because it's like, you know, well, yeah, of course I read the question, but actually, it kind of is a bigger thing than that, you know, read the question as in, think about what it means. Have you thoroughly read what it says? Not just I think it says this. And I think that applies to, you know, life in general, just because you can read something at face value. Have you thought about what lies beneath?

Indi
Yeah, my dad said the same. Always read the question. And I say to my girls now, always read the question. And I think I would say don't be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone. And I think when we think about the fact that certainly technology sector in STEM subjects it is predominantly male females may feel a little nervous to sort of go into a male dominated environment, but actually the things that make us feel a little bit on Comfortable are the ones are going to reap the biggest rewards for us because it's pushing us out of our comfort zone. And therefore we are learning. If we're too comfortable, generally we're not learning we're just carrying on doing the same thing. As always, I will always get the same outcome. So don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. And the old adage of no question is a dumb question. You'll be amazed at how many people are willing to answer your questions, and just give you so much support and inspiration. But you need to ask because people aren't mind reader's all the time. But they are really willing to help. Always ask the question.

Louise
Right. Well, thank you both. That's inspired me for sure.

Laura
Thank you very much. Thanks.

Indi
Indeed. Thank you, Dun & Bradstreet. Thank you.