At a recent Chief Data and Analytics forum, I was encouraged to see a well-balanced number of senior executives presenting about the business of analytics. Speakers included 12 women and 14 men, which indicates a growing diversity in analytics leadership. Even 20 years ago when I was studying statistics and computer science, I recall an obviously male dominated field. When I entered to the workforce, it was no different. Initially, I didn't consider the gender imbalance an issue, but over time I did notice a decline in young women entering the STEM disciplines and entering the workforce.
Women in analytics then and now
In more recent times, companies are striving for gender diversity. We're seeing more and more programs designed for women in data, such as workgroups, conferences and online communities to increase women into the field of data and analytics. Why wouldn’t you want to get on board this movement as is it considered the sexiest job of the 21st century? And since there is a shortage of skills in this space, the right skillset and approach can almost guarantee employment.
Upon reflection, I look at my own experience and am glad that I trusted my instincts. I started out majoring in psychology, and it was assumed that I would be a social worker or teacher. But I had a passion for the statistics unit and excelled. Then, my studies took a different direction when I completed a statistics and computer science degree. I became obsessed with coding and network gaming (the competitive nerd in me had to beat the boys of the class). From there, my career took off, leading me to become a female leader in the field of analytics, and it has been a great journey all the way.
Women in analytics: Follow these tips
Based on my work in analytics, I’d like to offer two top tips for women that are entering the ever growing field of data and analytics.
- Get a mentor. SAS Australia recently developed a mentoring program for STEM graduate hires in 2016. SAS CEO Jim Goodnight is passionate about making sure that up and coming STEM graduates are receiving positive career direction. Having a mentor will provide that direction and open you up to a network of experienced advisors to help accelerate your career. I’ve seen a real difference in the way people assert themselves when they have a trusted and supportive mentor. Plus, mentors are always willing to share their own life experience and successes, as they want to be able to part of someone else success.
- Become a leader. Find out what leadership training is available at your company and get your name on the list to be part of it. Be pro-active and ask for things that may never be offered. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get! When you gain strong leadership skills learn how to manage people, you can demonstrate not only than you can cut code and analyse data, but you can also drive a business forward with you assertiveness and thought-leadership.
For more on this topic, read about Susan Weidner, from IntrinsiQ Specialty Solutions. She provides practical advice for women interested in a career in analytics. Weidner states, “I learned early on that it’s important to be clear and direct. Communicate how the changes or the vision would support the organization’s goals. Of course, that’s just good common sense business, but even more important to emphasize when you’re a woman trying to be heard among men.”
I often wonder, if I had this advice earlier in my career, could I have accelerated my professional development? Maybe!