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Inspiring Women in STEM this International Women's Day

Article by Noha Badawy, Data Scientist at Dataiku

women in tech, soft skillsInternational Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the fantastic accomplishments of women around the world.

Some of these female role models may have what seem like unobtainable achievements or almost unimaginable skills and talent, however, all of these women started off just like you and me.

As a career path and as an industry, data science and its associated opportunities are growing at such an unprecedented rate, that it can often be difficult to keep on top of everything that is happening, as well as every new technology popping up. However, as quickly as the sector is progressing, there’s a divide in that women data scientists are not entering and moving up through the field at the same pace as men.

Encouraging more women to apply for data science roles and transition to data science as a career is something I am very passionate about. It may seem an intimidating field, but what’s amazing is the number of people who came to data science from other fields: after all, we’re all consuming and interacting with data science at a much higher level than we probably realise.  I hope my own journey into data science can inspire other women to consider whether it’s a career for them, and that they receive the same motivation and encouragement I have received from my team along the way.

The Wakeup Call I Needed to Pursue a Career in STEM

As I started my studies, I thrived on studying anything that was put in front of me, however, when it came to choosing a degree and a career path, I initially put my interest in computer science aside and chose a business and accounting role. However, while working in project coordination for senior executives, which involved following up on some data projects actions and progress, I asked one of the team members for advice and they responded with information I didn’t understand. This was the wakeup call I needed to pursue a career in STEM.

It was in this moment that I realised that there was nothing stopping me from retraining as a data scientist and becoming the person who could understand what my colleague was trying to explain. Computer science had always been my original passion, and I decided that now was the time to embark on the master’s degree that would give me the knowledge and the skillset I needed to pursue that passion.

I already had basic knowledge of statistics and maths, but the evening classes for my master’s degree went much deeper. I grew up in Egypt, so the maths and statistics I covered in school were in Arabic. It initially felt like starting over and relearning from the beginning, but eventually it clicked. I graduated with a master’s degree in Business Intelligence and Analytics, which covered statistics, mathematics, data mining, machine learning, business and risk modelling.

It was from here that I shifted my concentration to more of a data science focus and began teaching myself Python, before beginning a full-time data science role. Now in this role, I focus on training and coaching. This not only includes demonstrating to others how to use the platform, but also teaching the art of data science. For me, this includes simplifying the concepts that I need to explain and finding relevant examples to help people understand. I also motivate participants to have the belief that data science isn’t out of their reach.

My own learning did not stop there, though. With the advancement of new technology, it’s important to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape. However, diversity in the data science industry is not necessarily advancing at the same pace. Most applicants for data science roles are men, which shows that many women are reluctant to take risks and apply for roles that they do not feel 100% ready for. More women need to be encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and to pursue their passion or a career that they did not initially consider to be for them.

One way to encourage more women into STEM roles is to cut out the negativity and noise that questions whether women can code, or if something is too technical. Many people are positive and helpful when it comes to women in data science, yet a large portion can still fuel the negativity and stereotypes around STEM being a male-dominated industry.

Because of this, it’s important to be relatable. For those looking to enter a data science – or similar – role, it is helpful to recognise that even the most experienced STEM professionals don’t fully understand new concepts first time around. Sometimes it takes watching several tutorials before the information is digestible.

Attending events and joining discussions can help to break down those barriers and to show women that there are many role models out there. My key piece of advice for a woman looking to enter the STEM sector is for them to recognise that they are just like everyone else with a passion to learn and develop their skills, so it is best to follow your intuition and ignore the sometimes negative and dismissive opinions of others.

About the author

Noha started her career at Barclays bank in Cairo as a Customer Banking Business Support Manager before progressing into a Data Visualisation and Data Science Role. At Dataiku, Noha is an accomplished Data Scientist with training in Machine Learning, Operational Research, Big Data, Business Simulation, Data Mining and Python.

In addition to her own achievements and challenges encountered in her career to date, Noha is passionate about giving advice to companies on building inclusive environments and how to best address the main difficulties encountered by women in tech today.