84.51°’s data scientist looks back as they leap ahead
Welcome to the first 84.51° Data University report, the first in a series of quarterly insights for prospective and current data-science professionals.
During Women’s History Month, 84.51°’s Women in Technology (WIT) committee celebrates data science pioneers like research mathematician Katherine Johnson. Her work at NASA, immortalized in the 2016 Oscar contender “Hidden Figures,” broke longstanding gender and color barriers at the height of the Space Age.
The employee-led WIT committee, a subset of our Women’s EDGE group, also celebrates our ongoing mission: fostering a new generation of Katherine Johnsons. We’re calling out the challenges women in data science, engineering, and product design at 84.51° are facing, while doing all we can to overcome obstacles and fuel success.
Only three out of ten data science professionals are women, according to government statistics. We’re closing this gap by:
Engaging data-science students who are planning their careers
Taking a major role in new-employee onboarding
Guiding women through every stage of their careers at 84.51°
WIT, which started with only a handful of members in 2018, has grown in a group of more than sixty men and women committed to supporting career growth and acknowledging our colleagues’ skills and experience. Our membership includes everyone from recent college grads to senior vice-presidents. This diversity lets our members see how they can grow their careers here and get advice and support from our more senior members.
Mentees become mentors; followers become leaders. And management backs us all the way.
Breaking through barriers to success
At the time of its inception, WIT committed to addressing the dissatisfaction many members had about their careers including feelings of isolation, lack of recognition, and having more limited growth opportunities than their male counterparts. In the time since, we’ve been at the forefront of positive change. Here’s how we’re doing it…
1. We engage with tomorrow’s job candidates.
As an Actuarial Science major at Ohio State, I was passionate about math and logical thinking. Still, I had no idea that a data science career was an option until I did my own research. Since joining 84.51° in 2019, I’ve developed a deep affinity for consumer analytics and storytelling through data. I now put my talents to work at solving real-life questions for companies seeking an edge for their products in the marketplace.
My career has evolved well beyond my initial vision. But not all women have had the same opportunities to grow. That’s why WIT sends our people – data scientists, machine learning engineers among them – to colleges and universities, where they can discuss the value of our work to our industry, the greater business community, and our society. Creating such early bonds inspires students to follow their passions – and maybe even join us at 84.51°.
At the office, our co-op programs and summer internships, all created to ensure gender, racial, and educational diversity, are forging a strong channel of future data scientists. One of our largest annual events in this area is STEM Goes Red. We invite pre-college young women to the office, where they attend sessions and engage with women who are now realizing their goals in a STEM career. It shows them what possible in their future.
2. We create a sense of belonging from Day One.
Despite being amazingly talented, many women in our field can find themselves having what’s called “imposter syndrome.” They may not feel as capable or accomplished as their male counterparts, regardless of their aptitude and achievements. This can lead to feelings of isolation.
WIT’s Peer Mentoring Program provides feedback and encouragement. Set up like speed-dating sessions, the program’s events pair potential mentors and mentees in discussion about a mentee’s interests, skills, and experience.
We like to rotate mentors quarterly. I’ve had at least eight during the two-plus years I’ve been at 84.51°. Through it all, the most important message I’ve heard is: “You’re not alone in the way you feel, and you belong here.” My mentors have helped me build my confidence in my data science abilities and find a sense of community, so I could focus on excelling in my work.
3. We share knowledge to build confidence and stronger bonds.
A WIT study we sponsored along with Gender Lens, another 84.51° peer group, found that skilled and experienced men tend to rate themselves higher than women with equal skill and accomplishments. One way we try to balance out this gap is our twice-monthly Tech Office Hours events. We get a chance to discuss our latest projects, while trumpeting our skills and accomplishments. Topics run the gamut of technical, design, and business topics. For an example, one member recently shared her progress with new machine-learning technology techniques.
Riffing off the self-promotion theme, we’re also hosting a month-long event series for employees to celebrate Women’s History Month focusing on the many diverse roles that women play and ways to build confidence.
4. We encourage retention.
More than half of women in data science careers leave their organizations at the mid-level stage. That’s not a shock, since at this stage, priorities for women often shift as they focus more on building and supporting their families. Typical business models aren’t designed to support these shifts in priorities.
We encourage women to do what’s best for themselves and help them get there in any way we can. We instill this support among our members, starting at the internship level. By keeping our women engaged growing their careers, we’re shifting the business model to keep women’s priorities in mind and support them through every life stage.
Our internship and mentoring programs, along with an awesome support system, encourage our members to weave themselves into the fiber of our company by excelling at what they do. While nurturing the growth of younger employees, we’re taking aim at the entire industry’s longstanding retention issue: We’ve retained more than three-quarters of the women we’ve welcomed into the development program since 2015. What’s more, our data science leadership represents an almost even split between men and women.
On deck this month … and beyond.
Throughout March, we’ll examine how female colleagues are balancing their roles as co-workers, leaders, and family members. In the aftermath, we’ll inspire our women to bring their whole selves to work every day. After all, feeling included, valued, and respected for who we are and what we contribute, can’t help but create a greater sense of belonging.
My experience with WIT has made me feel welcome, appreciated for my skills, and part of a tremendous team. Our efforts as a group and as a company bring joy to me every day.
CTI, “The Athena Factor 2.0: Accelerating Female Talent in Science, Engineering, & Technology.” Center for Talent Innovation, 2014).
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