data, coding

What does a data scientist look like? My journey to becoming a data scientist and a mother

data, coding

By Karin Sasaki, Senior Consultant in Data Science, Ekimetrics

Career paths are rarely straightforward, are they?

When I was studying, I wanted to become an applied academic, using data to solve problems. I completed my PhD in Biomathematics, which led to my first job: working for the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. I was helping to create mathematical models of biological systems.

Six years later, and I’ve pivoted a little from the original life plan. I’m now working as a data scientist for Ekimetrics, where we use data to help businesses better understand consumers, their marketing, or to improve their products and services.

It was a leap of faith to leave academia, but I had found a true passion in data; I love the different ways it can be used. And so, maybe unsurprisingly, I landed on data science as a career path. And so, the research began, and I read deeply and widely, looking for areas that interested me and ways to get a foothold in the industry.

Read. That’s one key piece of advice I’d give to anyone worried about switching careers or trying something new. Really throw yourself into the literature around a subject and spend free time learning more about it. Most things aren’t as terrifying or as difficult to understand as you might expect!

For me, I found a really great data science community online – but I’d say the same is true across a great many industries. People write really helpful how-to articles, and they’ll offer to help you find the answers when you need them.

Connecting with people and networking is another great way to find out whether you’re comfortable in a certain field.

The journey rather than the industry

I’ve always been ‘subject agnostic’ and more interested in the process of finding an answer, rather than a specific sector or industry.

So, to me, a company like Ekimetrics with many different clients and types of businesses is fascinating. I love being able to use my background to take data sets and translate them into something businesses can understand and feel comfortable with.

Marketing effectiveness is particularly interesting to me because there are so many different data types and customer interests to analyse. At the moment, I’m involved in a couple of projects that are helping companies understand customers and their behavior better. In turn, this is helping us outline the most valuable areas of each business, so we can see how it can better serve its customers.

It’s rewarding to see our work have a direct and measurable impact on the success of a business. And it’s brilliant to feel we’re helping in a tangible way.

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Choosing to become a mother

Of course, when you love your career, motherhood isn’t always a straightforward choice to navigate. The fear of losing your career can be a daunting. I am sure countless women have struggled with this and I know it still influences women’s choices around the world.

I’m very grateful to my family, friends, and work colleagues, both male and female, who have supported me. I’m now blessed to have a son.

When I was pregnant – and then again when raising a small child – I noticed the support of those around me the most. At work, my colleagues saw my output wasn’t diminished, I was just working in different patterns.

Regardless of how I got the work done, they still trusted that projects would be finished on time and to a high standard. Having this trust motivated me to get the job done well. My husband has been wonderful and taken on more around the house whenever I needed to interview for roles or work particularly hard. And having my extended family to help gives me more time to develop my career.

Ultimately, while it should always be a woman’s choice to become a mother, it isn’t always possible to do this alone. Parenting itself is often a full-time job and so support is vital to continue to thrive and reach your potential in the workplace.

Diversity within Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers

Obviously, my thoughts on juggling children and work are probably less relevant to much younger girls and women who are thinking about a STEM career!

In data science, like any industry, there is no one way in. There are many different routes and I am proud to demonstrate that!

To anyone who is, and is feeling unsure, I studied maths because I was interested in it, but I have seen that if your interests change you can change your career plans too. You’re never pigeonholed into something for life. If you want to make a change, go for it!

I did a lot of studying online and there is more support than ever, for example, via e-courses. Plus, being a data scientist doesn’t mean you’ve had to have a particular background in maths. Actually, in line with removing bias, it is good to have a wide number of backgrounds in any particular team. Different viewpoints are welcome.

Having a mix of people in terms of gender, academic and cultural backgrounds, changes the dynamics of a workplace for the better. It means being able to bring your full self to work and not be afraid of expressing yourself. In a workplace like that people feel freer to be and express themselves and that positivity permeates into the work and collaboration.

It also creates better business outcomes. According to the McKinsey study “Why Diversity Matters,” companies in the top quartile for gender-diverse executive suites were 15% more likely to generate above-average profitability compared to the bottom quartile of companies whose executive teams were predominantly white and male.

I hope that women such as myself can continue to break the bias around certain careers and encourage diversity. In doing so, I truly believe we will support much more prosperous societies and do better business.

Karin SasakiAbout the author

Karin is a mathematician with a Ph.D. and five years’ experience in modelling and data analysis in various industry and academic settings. She has worked with a variety of data that has come from molecular biology systems, as well as from operational research, and now marketing. Her specific modelling and analytical skills include low dimensional topology, topological data analysis and machine learning.


Leading menopause experts team up with Women in Data for game-changing initiative: MenopauseX

MenopauseX

Women in Data, Newson Health and the Balance App are joining forces for a joint initiative, MenopauseX.

This ground-breaking collaboration will provide cutting edge data insights and bridge data gaps that exist here in the UK, and beyond, by including women from minority backgrounds.

Cross collaboration will generate previously non-existent/scarce insights, demonstrate the cost of the menopause to the economy and, in turn, improve the health and wellbeing of menopausal women and trans/non-binary people everywhere.

Women in Data’s research has shown that women are often stepping into roles with greater responsibility and influence during this time in their working life. This career-crucial time can often be impacted by menopause and we know that it is affecting women’s workplace performance, wellbeing and overall effectiveness.

MenopauseX’s insights will be used to improve the health and wellbeing of women the world over. To gain truly valuable intelligence, our project design, resources, contributions, data and interpretation will be inclusive and reflective of society.

The project’s commitment to inclusion will be met by addressing gaps in menopause data, for example women from minority backgrounds and non-binary people. Our collective strategy is designed to support identities that have previously been omitted from research studies, who are often more adversely affected earlier in life and with greater health implications.

The collective of subject matter experts includes:

Women in Data, a highly skilled community that supports and develops the careers of women in data and technology. Women in Data® helps women at all stages of their careers through networking, mentoring, selected partner-backed jobs promotion, and its free-to- attend flagship annual event. Based on evidence that, to accelerate change, awareness needs to be generated among younger age groups, Girls in Data was launched at the BBC in 2020. Women in Data® has attracted the support of Data luminaries and organisations committed to inclusion and diversity. To increase the number of visible female role models, Women in Data® launched the prestigious annual promotion Twenty in Data and Technology, which is entering its fifth year.

Newson Health logoNewson Health Research and Education, a not-for-profit centre of excellence dedicated to the perimenopause and menopause, that provides healthcare professionals, training and knowledge about treatment options for the menopause including the safe prescribing of HRT.

Balance logoThe Balance App, a free award-winning menopause support app with the ambition to make menopause support inclusive and accessible to all. The app has already supported hundreds of thousands of women worldwide to share their insights and experience, track their symptoms, and access expert help, diagnosis and treatment.

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assorted numbers on a board, women in data

Getting women into data: Creating a more representative industry 

assorted numbers on a board, women in data

Article by Carlyn Foster, Head Of Marketing, 4D Data Centres

The skills gap is something that appears frequently in the news, with a lack of trained workers on the horizon for upcoming technology-focused jobs raising concerns in many industries.

There’s been talk of a skill shortage in IT, but even more worrying is the lack of female professionals in the sector, and what is being done to encourage more women into technical roles.

With only a small percentage of the UK’s female workforce employed in IT jobs, this is presenting many recruitment challenges, especially as a very limited number of those who could be qualified to work in the sector are actually working in it. In 2019, the proportion of female staff in tech in the UK sat at just 16%, which staggeringly is the same as it was back in 2009. This is reflected in another eye-opening statistic, which states only 5% of leadership positions in the UK tech sector are held by women.

Challenges within the sector

While we are starting to see more women in prominent roles, the tech sector still has much to do, which is also true of the data centre industry. In 2019, Uptime Institute issued a report on privately-owned enterprise data centres, which revealed  25% of the managers it spoke to had no women among their design or operational staff. This was followed up with the revelation that just 5% of the survey’s respondents have women making up 50% or more of their workforce.

These figures provide an overview of the challenges the sector faces when it comes to inclusivity or equal opportunities, showing there is not a one-size-fits-all solution which can resolve the disconnect on a large scale.

One area to help address greater diversity is targeting girls at the grassroots level and enticing them through education to consider tech and data-related roles. This includes placing a greater emphasis on careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

The future looks brighter for STEM roles

According to a WISE report, from 2019-20, as little as 24% of the UK STEM workforce was made up of women. And according to a 2019 survey, of the 176 women studying STEM subjects in the UK and Ireland, 74% answered that diversity initiatives were either very or extremely important to them.

Similar research in 2020 saw this figure rise by 9%, which shows there is a drive in creating more diverse workforces. Additionally, it brings to light the benefits diversity initiatives are having and how they are becoming more universally accepted by students every year.

According to WISE, in 2018 women made up just 16% of IT professionals and 17% IT technicians, and while this percentage is still low, recent data has shown that female STEM students are positive about the future and believe the imbalance will change for the better within the next decade. This way of thinking comes from the introduction of initiatives like Girls in Data and Women In Data Centres, which highlights progress in the move towards a more representative industry.

Making career opportunities known

Educational institutions have a responsibility to make sure there is an opportunity to study STEM subjects and have them delivered in a way that is appealing and motivating to students from all backgrounds and genders. Diversity isn’t a tick box exercise and can’t be fixed by simply instilling measures. It needs to be seen as a way to learn and make impactful changes.

When it comes to data centres, a key part of meeting demands in the long term is acknowledging the importance of improving gender diversity in the workplace. There is often a lack of understanding about what the data centre sector is and the career opportunities it offers, which is why it needs to be made more accessible.

Within the broader tech sector, a push is needed to ensure there is sufficient representation of under-represented groups, which is arguably now more vital than ever as the development of digital technologies has escalated by circumstances facilitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Benefiting from innovation

A lack of diversity can stifle large scale innovation, not only in technical development but in business structures and organisational development. An increasingly diverse workforce is proven to be more creative and innovative, and as technological developments continue to advance at a much faster pace than before COVID-19, the data centre industry’s key role in the nation’s infrastructure could benefit from even more innovation.

According to research from Uptime, the global data centre industry has the mammoth task of needing to take on 300,000 new staff by 2025. This shortage in recruitment and the creation of new job roles provides a perfect opportunity for the sector to boost diversity and drive the initiatives that have been created. However, we must do more to make wholesale change and ensure the representation the sector needs to provide is prioritised.

There is no fool-proof way to address the lack of female representation within the data centre industry. The initiatives being implemented are already making steps towards emphasising grassroots level education that will help encourage larger takeup levels at an earlier age. Acknowledging the problem is already helping to tackle the issue, but there is more work to be done to ensure this is a conversation the sector and broader tech industry keeps having.

Carlyn FosterAbout the author

Carlyn Foster is a senior level strategic marketing professional with over 15 years’ experience in delivering excellent results within global consumer goods brands (FMCG) and digital and in-bound marketing communications within a UK B2B Information Technology environment.


woman coding on laptop, Code First Girls

Inspiring the next generation of young women towards a career in data and technology

woman coding on laptop, Code First Girls

A job in data and technology might not be the first choice for many young people, particularly women, looking for their first step on the career ladder.

However, Head of Manufacturers Steph Cullen, at IRI, and former gold medallist rower for team GB, discusses how schools and the fast-moving, consumer goods (FMCG) industry can take action to help more young women navigate a successful course into a data-led career.

Despite not having any real clue about what I wanted to do when I left school, I was the kind of person who believed that the right opportunity would present itself if I just continued to do what I enjoyed most. I was good at chemistry and maths so I pursued these subjects. While at university I realised that I particularly enjoyed the subjective element of numbers and how the interpretation of data could generate all sorts of interesting stories.

I think schools and colleges these days are doing a much better job at guiding young people into jobs. Encouraging pupils to attend career fairs and having people from different industries come into schools and share their experience is a useful way of discovering the different types of jobs available. However, when it comes to areas such as data and technology, I think there tends to be a view that these sorts of careers are heavily focussed on data science; that these jobs are ‘geeky’ and that you need to be incredibly intelligent to succeed. But of course, we are all intelligent in different ways. Schools could perhaps do a better job of explaining that there is a need for people with a variety of skill sets that would be suitable for a career in the FMCG data and technology industry.

I’m not a tech geek. What I do find fascinating though is what data can tell us and how insights can provide us with a wide range of information that can impact and improve our lives. That’s the amazing part of working with data; it touches everybody and it’s relevant to everyone.

Most people don’t realise it, but we use big data and technology every single day. Whether it’s using ‘tap and go’ contactless payments with our bank card or spending points on our supermarket loyalty cards. For example, the amount of data and technology that goes in to determining which products appear on our supermarket shelves is mind blowing. Millions of people shop online now, which has increased significantly during the pandemic. The fact we can order just about anything and have it delivered to our doors within 24 hours is all down to how data and technology work together.

Transferable skills to help you succeed

There are many transferable skills that you can pick up at school, college or university that will enable you to pursue a successful career, including one in data and technology. Here are my top three:

  1. Self-belief – Knowing that if you put your mind to something and consistently show up every day with that goal in mind, you can pretty much achieve anything. It’s not about being at your best every single day; it’s not about never making mistakes. For example, if you’re feeling 4 out of 10 one day, as long as you show up with that and do what you can with it, that’s the most important thing. You’ll still end up being further on than you would have been had you just not shown up. Do I walk into high-level board meetings feeling 100% confident all the time? No, not at all. But what I do have is self-belief. This enables me to feel grounded, reminds me of what I’m actually capable of and that I have a voice that is worth listening to.
  2. Resilience – As a former elite athlete and GB rower, having resilience was essential. Performance at this level entails constant knock backs, failures and losing by the slimmest of margins. From an early age we’re taught that we don’t always win in life and can’t always get our own way. It’s the same in business and in sport it can be brutal. Having the resilience to accept failure as an everyday part of life and learning how to bounce back from it is an important skill worth having.
  1. Teamwork – Don’t fear or resent being the most junior or least experienced member of a team, because it means you’re going to learn, grow and benefit from those stronger, more experienced players around you, enabling you to progress faster. As in sport, teamwork is essential in business. A crucial part of putting together a successful team is recognising that we all have different strengths and weaknesses and that everybody has a different role to play. A team of people that can offer different experiences, views, opinions and ways of doing things are ultimately more likely to win.

As well as schools, the FMCG industry also has an important part to play in attracting more numbers of young women into the sector. One of the simplest things it can do is to be more open minded and offer greater flexibility in terms of working hours. I see some really talented women in FMCG but they are often hindered by inflexible working practices. The industry could also be more supportive and encouraging towards those women that are thinking about applying for senior roles, otherwise they risk being passed over. Offering supportive peer networks and mentoring programmes are just a few examples of how the industry can help support those employees lacking in confidence.

Discover what you enjoy doing most

As with most jobs, there are some parts that you’re not going to enjoy doing. My advice would be to not look for a job, but first discover what it is you enjoy doing most and then find a job that delivers this on most days. If you’re excited by numbers and data then immerse yourself in relevant events, films, books, TED Talks etc. that explain how important data is and how it operates in today’s fast-paced digital world.

The other thing to remember is that nothing is permanent. You don’t have to decide, for example, at the age of 20 that the first job you land will be the one for life. You can change your mind at any time. When I was younger, I didn’t love doing anything in particular. I found a job and just thought to myself I’ll keep doing this until it stops being interesting.

Children at every level of education should be encouraged to cultivate an interest in STEM, but particularly girls given their under-representation in these subjects. To do this schools must demonstrate how STEM can empower girls, women and gender diverse individuals to be agents of change.

Women have a role to play in all areas of data and technology and the current under-representation of women risks losing the experiences and perspectives of over half the population to the detriment of our industry.

About the author

Steph is Head of Manufacturers for IRI, a leading provider of big data, predictive analytics and forward-looking insights that help FMCG, health care organisations, retailers, financial services and media companies grow their businesses. She joined IRI from Britvic where she spent five years as head of business insight.

Before that she worked in several client leadership roles for dunnhumby after initially beginning her career on Unilever’s Future Leaders Programme.

In 2018, Steph was named by Women in Data as an inaugural member of the ‘20 in Data & Technology’ which set out to discover stories of inspiring women in data science, to tackle the issue of gender imbalance and to inspire the next generation of data science leaders.


If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here


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08/03/2021: Women in Data International Women's Day

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Celebrating women all over the world! By coming together in regions we can increase our reach and impact #strongertogether.

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Working with numbers | Women in Data

assorted numbers on a board, women in data

When Lyndsey Swann needed a career reboot, she studied for an HND in computing at night school and this led to her first role in data. Lyndsey now heads up ‘customer excellence’ for Gazprom Energy - a role all about maximising and monetising data and insight across the organisation. Lyndsey tells us why she thinks women are underrepresented in the data sector and what can be done about it.

The percentage of roles linked to data science being taken by women has dropped from 41 per cent in 2005, to 34 per cent in 2009, and to 27 per cent in 2019.

Despite millions of pounds being spent to encourage greater diversity in STEM careers, worryingly, jobs involving data are neither attracting, nor being secured by, female candidates.

I love working with data because it enables better business decisions. It often takes the emotion or guesswork out of decision making and will ultimately improve an organisation’s performance by enhancing service to the customer and increasing revenue to the business. It’s fantastic to create a compelling story through data that makes people think differently and introduces them to new ideas. Data can surprise, prove wrong or validate original thought – you never know what you are going to find.

The unconscious message

But clearly data isn’t the career choice for many women. I think this is due to the choices young girls make at school, as well as the unconscious messages they are given. For a large part, data analytics and data science doesn’t inspire young girls. While many enjoy maths and sciences at primary school, interest wanes when they move into senior school and become teenagers - where many conform with ‘the norm’.

The way data science is ‘sold’ in many schools is also partly to blame. Even today people assume that girls’ minds are less technical and not as logical. Although this is unconscious in many cases, it puts girls off studying these subjects due to the fear of failure. This perpetuates the vicious cycle of lacking female role models that could then inspire the female data scientists of the future.

So how can we improve the situation? Firstly, we must engage young girls when they are in high school and making those crucial GCSE choices. It needs to be made clear that a career in data is a rewarding, achievable and sustainable career choice. Bringing women in data into high schools to inspire others would help.

Secondly, a clearer career roadmap would be useful. Data science is not the only role available to those who are inspired by analytics. There are also areas like customer insight, or research and marketing roles that all utilise data and would benefit hugely from greater diversity.

Broadening the spectrum

This diversity would bring tangible benefits and improvements to industry; for example, a broader spectrum of views and different approaches to solving business problems. Women tend to excel in problem solving, agility of thought, and communications – all crucial attributes in my line of work.

I also think women are generally strong at logical decision making, are highly action-orientated and active listeners. These are essential attributes in data analytics & data science, especially when it comes to asking the right questions of the data and insight to monetise the outcomes as constantly demanded in business today.

However, we should be aiming for a place where gender is irrelevant and the most talented people should grow and thrive equally in the data sector, regardless of this. As in many areas, this requires substantial effort to remove unconscious bias.

Making a difference

Another way the sector can nurture more talent, including women, is by demonstrating the connected worlds that data science is part of. My career transcends two very different but connected worlds – deep data insights and customer experience. Connections like these are important because they highlight the wider impact that working with data has. It’s not just about being into numbers. It’s what you learn from them and how you can make a difference.

These ‘data connections’ should encourage more people who are data literate but also enjoy creative thinking and problem solving, to look further at data analytics & data science as a rewarding career path. The industry needs the right combination of technical data science and programming skills but also the ability to utilise that insight for commercial gain.

Now that so many customer interactions are digital, there are new opportunities for younger candidates to shine earlier. They can quickly dominate the field in new data areas such as web analytics, social media listening, sentiment analysis, and AI.

My own journey

I’m both proud and lucky to work for a business today that takes diversity seriously. It’s this attitude and the people within Gazprom Energy that sets it apart from other B2B utilities suppliers. Within the UK we have a balanced senior team in terms of outlook, gender, and specialism, which makes for fair leadership and a strong foundation for the business.

The skillset I need in my customer excellence team is widespread, from research professionals and process specialists, to customer insight analysts and CRM experts. This should ensure diversity. First and foremost, I want to recruit people that are passionate about creating best in class customer experience using data, insight, research, and technology, so we are continually able to grow and innovate.

Gender will not be the primary factor in choice of recruits; however, I strongly hope that I can build a diverse team that benefits from great female candidates in the mix.

Lyndsey SwannAbout the author

Lyndsey Swann is Head of Customer Excellence at Gazprom Energy.

With over 15 years’ experience in in customer insight and analytics, research, strategy development, segmentation, customer experience, CRM and customer services, Swann works to put the customer at the heart of decision making whether that be B2C or B2B.


If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here.


Women in Data

Women in Data

The aim of Women in Data UK is to ensure diversity in Analytics by encouraging females to shine and progress in their careers.

We are convinced that gender parity would generate competitive advantage to UK businesses by mobilising a wealth of historically untapped talent. Women in Data UK provides a community setting in which delegates can network and share ideas.

The strong relationships formed at Women in Data UK events have created an increasingly powerful group from which female data practitioners gain support and advice.

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