People often ask how prevalent women are in data analytics. At Facebook’s inaugural Women in Analytics Conference, held earlier this year, the 320 of us that attended learned that five times that number had applied, promoting a discussion over lunch as to what analytics were used to select us lucky few. Suffice it to say, it was a diverse gathering, representing over 100 companies, including women from different backgrounds, experiences, career stages and locations. One key takeaway: more events like these are needed to foster, build and strengthen our community.
The day encompassed keynotes in the morning; breakout sessions in the afternoon on Machine Learning & Algorithms, Data Science Toolkit, Data in Practice, Data Platforms & Engineering, and Influence & Thought Leadership; and finally a career panel session with women from Google, Facebook, Netflix, Microsoft, and Atlassian. It was a rare and humbling experience to be in a room with so many other talented and motivated women facing similar challenges.
The theme of community was prevalent throughout the day. Cheryl Dartt, the first female Director of Analytics at Facebook, welcomed us all to the conference by sharing her story of struggling to find other women in analytics.
This conference was inspired by the idea that if you can’t find a community to join, you may just need to create the community you want to be part of. Anita Lynch, Vice President of Data Architecture & Analytics at Disney echoed this with a proverb “when we build alone, we build faster; when we build together, we build smarter.” I heard the same proverb echoed later that week at an internal workshop, highlighting how critical collaboration is to our work. Mico Yuk, a co-founder of BI Brainz, attributed her resilience in dealing with the challenges of being a female founder in a world where they receive less than 2 percent of venture capital to her amazing community and mentors. She encouraged us to continue building our community by both finding and being mentors - “No matter what stage you are in your career, you’re ahead of someone. Pay it forward.”
Another theme was the power of data, and recognition that with great power comes great responsibility. This was particularly timely, not only because of current media coverage, but also due to the upcoming changes to data privacy regulation in the European Union. Beyond data privacy, though, which is of course key for personal health information, there were clear parallels in healthcare with several of the keynotes. Laura Evans, Senior Vice President of Data & Insights at the New York Times, highlighted how data and analytics are being repositioned as a key strategic pillar and changing a 166-year-old business. Elena Grewal, Head of Data Science at Airbnb, reminded us to be guided by impact: “We are not measured by the cleverness of our solutions, but by the value of the problem solved.” We must always keep our responsibilities to our customers in mind, whether it’s about delivering medicines to patients, or finding accommodation for travelers.
Finally I wanted to share what I found the most powerful moment of the conference, which came during a discussion of imposter syndrome in the panel session. When the panel was asked whether they ever felt like a fraud, like others were more expert, they turned the question back to the room, and every single hand went up. Sometimes the first step in addressing it is just recognizing that everyone feels the same way. This conference did a great job fostering that sense of community; can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next one!
Emma Huang is an Associate Scientific Director, Population Analytics at Janssen Research & Development.