13 stories from STEM-qualified women in data

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Monday, 11th February is the UN’s International day of women and girls in science – an opportunity to highlight the massive gender disparity in academic and career achievement in STEM. Globally, just 3% of students on ICT courses are female, rising 5% for maths and stats and  8% for engineering, manufacturing and construction. 
The UK may feel like it is a marginal over-achiever, with 8% of its computer science students being women and 17% of workers in tech industries. But there is a huge gap between the aspiration to make the sector more female-friendly and the reality – only half of all the girls taking STEM subjects at school go into careers in the field.
Data and analytics has good reason to feel it can help as there is an estimated 23% representation of women across the sector. DataIQ’s 2018 edition of the 100 list of most influential people in the industry was able to offer a 28:72 female:male ratio – in line with official targets for FTSE board membership, for example, but really still a long way behind the true goal of parity.
To highlight the opportunities which are open to women taking STEM – and which might encourage more students to remain in this sector – DataIQ revisited the profiles of female members of last year’s 100. From those who had studied STEM, here is what they had to say in response to the question, “so – why did you choose data?”
Gillian Tomlinson, chief data officer, RSA
“I joined a credit bureau in my early 20s and found it fascinating. There are no two days the same and it’s an ever-evolving, dynamic industry.”
Catherine Brien, chief data officer, Guardian News and Media
“I didn’t choose data, I chose solving interesting, complex problems that could make a big difference. I chose to approach those problems in ways that drew on facts wherever possible, rather than simply opinion. And, coupled with a background in maths, that led to data – finding ways to make best use of what exists and, as importantly, designing the ways to collect new data we needed really to understand what we wanted (experiments, research…)”
Helen Crooks, chief data officer, Lloyds of London
“I didn’t – it seemed to choose me! Looking back, I am not surprised where my career has come from. I was a Mathematics and Sociology joint honours graduate and, in the ‘80s, data didn’t really exist. So I had a choice – accountant or something called a systems analyst. That seemed a bit more interesting than accountancy and it meant that I worked with Oracle V2 on the first database application in commercial business outside of the US. I was responsible for identifying why row level locking was needed on early databases. Things developed from there, so looking back, I really have worked in data for the whole of my career.”
Michelle de Souza, chief data officer, Age UK
“I’ve always enjoyed working with data. There is a certain level of satisfaction about driving evidenced-based decision-making. Over the years, I’ve seen attitudes change towards data, from disinterest to almost reverence. I particularly welcome the increase in the number of organisations saying data is changing the way they do business.”
Papinder Dosanjh, platform lead for AI, ASOS
“Why did I choose data? The potential to deliver transformational impact across businesses and wider society.”
Johanna Hutchinson, head of data, The Pensions Regulator
“I chose science – the process of collecting, managing, cleaning, analysing and interpreting data for a set objective is the basic premise of embedding data in a business. I’m motivated by wanting my work to have a high public value – developing the use of data in government gives me both.”
Charlie Hutton, head of data science and customer analytics, Domestic and General
“Choosing data presented me with a convenient vehicle to combine and carry forward both my passion for numbers and my hunger for a challenge. When used by an analytical mind, data is a tool which can be used to solve a variety of complex problems and provide solutions to challenges faced by businesses across many industries.”
Ramneet Julka, director – customer analytics, ACE, Barclays
“Through university, I always loved numbers, logical reasoning and analytical thinking and it influenced my choice of subjects, focused on finance and computing. Equally, I enjoyed working with people and was actively involved in drama, charities and debating. “
“So, as a trainee going through the rotation of various jobs, analytics was the most natural fit that played to my strengths and passions. It has been the perfect blend where the insights are powered through data and logical structured thinking, while the action and impact is powered through people, ie, developing strong stakeholder relationships and leading a diverse team of analysts.”
Helen Mannion, global chief data officer, Specsavers
“I would love to say I chose it, but really I fell into it. I always wanted to do something mathematical or analytical, but when I got offered my first job, I was rather indifferent to the role. I know they say you are not meant to accept the first offer that comes your way, but I did and, out of all the industries I had imagined working in, transport was not one of them!! Although, looking back, it was the best decision I could have made. My managers where inspirational and here I am, lucky enough to do something I enjoy everyday.”
Yasmeen Ahmad, director, Think Big Analytics
“With data, the possibilities are infinite. I have a passion for problem-solving and, with data as the raw ingredient, it is possible to create, innovate and solve problems in new ways. The process of taking data – numbers and words, digits and characters – and applying analytical algorithms requires out-of-the-box thinking. This process is both art and science to generate the best solution possible, which requires the combination of my skills in these areas.”
“I am curious and inquisitive, skills that help me explore and discover insights from data and build stories. I enjoy building data stories that connect with people and help expand understanding into business domains.”
Simmi Bajaj, former head of CRM, ODEON Cinemas UK and Ireland
“It was a natural fit for my degree and love of numbers. After my first job, I quickly saw the benefits that data analysis could bring to any business and each role I have taken has made me a stronger advocate for the capture and use of data at every touch point of every organisation. I am passionate about making people realise the value of the data we have and to be data-driven at the core of everything we do.”
Kim Nilsson, chief executive officer and co-founder, Pivigo
“Numbers have fascinated me ever since my mother taught me about negative numbers on the back of an envelope when I was ten years old. My first career, as a scientist, was all about numbers, so it made sense to have some a connection with data.”
“When I started reading up on data science, I quickly came to feel in awe of the enormous potential in better use of data. Now, I am a passionate believer that data science will revolutionise everything – how we work, live and pass our time. Why would you not want to be part of that?”
Jeni Tennison, chief executive officer, The Open Data Institute
“I believe that we make better decisions, faster, when those decisions are informed by data and that makes data both powerful and vital for tackling the big challenges that we face. So, working with data – and specifically ensuring that data can easily get to the people who need to make decisions – appeals to my desire to leave the world a better place. But it also appeals because I enjoy finding order and structure in things – ways to understand and explain the world – and that is what data provides.”

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