Data science and diversity

GUEST BLOG: In this contributed blog post, Amy Sharif, head of data science at decision intelligence company Peak, discusses how data science can become a more accessible field for women. 

Data Science is a fast moving field, and though innovation, progress and efficiency are at the forefront of a lot of what we do, we must not forget the human side of our environment. Data Science remains a relatively new landscape, it can be seen as too complicated or dense – perhaps even inaccessible for some – and is likely to put people off exploring a career in the field, especially if not encouraged or inspired. For businesses to recruit and retain women, there are some key factors that need to be considered and addressed:

DE&I 

Most businesses are looking at bettering their diversity and inclusion efforts and, though we’re seeing an increase in people applying for data science roles, diversity and retention continues to lag. I am very passionate about resolving this  – I want to get more people of every background and ability into data science. I truly believe that in order for a business to succeed, vitality and diversity is the only way to ensure a successful future.

Fostering an open environment

Data scientists are effectively problem solvers and teams need diverse backgrounds and skill sets to be able to do that effectively. We need to foster a genuinely open culture with true support in the workplace. Encouraging team members to make time for their own learning and development, and providing time for them to work weekly on initiatives and projects they are passionate about, is just as vital as prioritising their personal lives. It brings new perspectives, insights and opportunities which can, and most often will, be beneficial to the business and its objectives.

Inspiring role models

It’s crucial to feel represented over the course of a career, both in the role you’re in and what you aspire to be. Role models in the workplace have a huge impact, seeing women in data science roles makes other women feel included, supported and understood. In my day to day, I try to be a role model and lead by example, by being myself, but also setting team-wide goals, leading strategic initiatives to improve diversity and supporting my peers one-on-one. This could be chatting to a female colleague about their challenges or opportunities they’d like to pursue, or helping share advice for people looking to find a role in data science. It’s something I think about everyday, and believe that if we all try to move the needle slightly it will have a huge impact.

It’s also worth saying that if you’re a male data scientist, you can still be a role model to women! We’re all responsible for supporting women in order to close the gender gap; I’m really proud of my male colleagues and friends, and the impact they have supporting the amazing women around them. I think it’s important for every woman in tech to have at least one person they can speak to openly about the challenges they face, to prevent feelings of isolation that could lead to wanting to leave the sector altogether.

Regardless of whether you work in tech or a different sector, a true gauge of the challenges and concerns that are affecting your team and the individuals within it is vital for all leaders. We need to actively create a welcoming and inspiring work culture by listening to everyone within the team, motivating people to be their true selves and leading by example.

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