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As Women in Data UK commenced its third annual event, and we stared across a sea of women, one could be excused for asking, ‘why is women in data still such a hot topic in 2017?’

Why are ‘women’, ‘diversity’ and ‘motherhood’ still hot topics in 2017?
Today, laws exist to ensure women are paid and treated fairly and equally, so why do we need a women-only conference?

The fact is that the world of data and analytics is still a male-dominated field and it’s hard to break down the stereotypes around STEM to attract the next-generation of female talent. The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, made a significant point on stage when she said that, to date, women haven’t been leaders in the exploitation of data, but they have led the protection of it. She believes the opportunity exists for women to bring the human side to data and ensure the best use of data, because women possess the softer skills needed to get the balance right.

Karien Esterhuyse from Vanquis Bank said that in her organisation there is a good gender mix, but that there is work to do to push women into middle and higher management roles. And Athina Kanioura from Accenture said it’s challenging to retain women in leadership roles once they decide to start a family and that companies need to incentivise women better in order to retain them.

It was surprising to hear that having children still has a big impact on women’s careers in 2017, but refreshing to hear Ramneet Julka’s experiences of working at Barclays. The company places a huge emphasis on diversity and has invested in programmes that promote collaboration, empathy and inclusiveness for all.

Is an all-female forum necessary?
Women in Data UK is a necessary event because it showcases female talent and challenges the barriers that women still face in the technology sectors. You could see 450 female data professionals in the room on 30th November drawing strength from the fact that they are not facing their challenges alone. They heard the encouragement and practical advice of Data trailblazers; and they could network among themselves to continue to build an expanding supportive WiD community.

Until we can look at our colleagues and see people in specific roles, rather than their gender, there will always be a place for such a powerful event.

Data is at the heart of today’s business world
Caroline Morris of Wide Eyed Group gave us the wonderful quote: “Data is exciting. It’s the stuff of real life.”

The passion for data, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) was evident throughout the day. Everyone present spoke with excitement about their role, their career, the event – and anything to do with data!

During her conversation with Fedelma Good of PwC, Elizabeth Denham made the point that data is now so important that it’s no longer the responsibility of the IT department, it’s a board-level issue that changes the way that organisations operate.

Yasmeen Ahmad, Director at Think Big Analytics, drove home the key business benefits of data and why it’s so important:

  • Data gives us more insight than ever before.
  • Data is the DNA footprint of the customer relationship that helps us to understand and anticipate customer needs.
  • Data is an offensive weapon, it helps us create strategic differentiation and competitive advantage.

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Women, business and profitability
Sponsor delegates formed a panel to consider “Is gender diversity profitable?” The session was a highlight of the day. There were no egos on stage, no self-promotion, just real people sharing real stories that the audience could relate to.

Women in Data UK chair, Payal Jain, shared the results of a recent survey based on nearly 22,000 people across 91 firms. It showed that companies with women in their leadership team enjoyed a 15% increase in revenue. This revenue uplift is attributed to more diverse workplace environments with open cultures, where the specific skill sets that women bring are welcomed, embraced and used to help the business.

Karien Esterhuyse listed three qualities that define women’s contributions:

1)     They aren’t afraid to ask questions, which is great for collaboration.
2)     They’re very creative, which is important for analytics.
3)     They look after the people in their teams, which makes them good managers.

3 key takeaways from Women in Data UK 2017
The atmosphere at Women in Data UK is super supportive and highly emotional, but there are all-important practical lessons and takeaways to help women further their careers.

1)     You can’t ignore data
The data and analytics explosion has transformed our lives. Data not only powers businesses to drive them to the next level but also affects every aspect of the world we live in. Whether it’s automating processes to boost efficiency, focussing customer service on personalisation, or transforming our children’s toys with integrated AI features, data and analytics are essential to our world.

2)     Take control of your own destiny
‘Taking control’ was a continuous theme. During the sponsor’s panel session, Athina Kaniouva said, “if you want a promotion, you have to ask for it, don’t wait for it.” Håkan Nyberg, CEO of Ikano Bank, said that women have a “golden opportunity” to help, promote and sponsor each other.

A new programme was revealed at Women in Data UK, ‘Twenty in Data and Technology’, which promotes inspirational female role models. Each of the twenty had motivational messages for the audience, including: “You have to own your own career”; “Take a leap of faith”; “Flip the question, not ‘can I do this?’, but ‘HOW can I do this?’” … and a point always worth remembering,“You don’t have to do this alone.”

3)     Leadership at home and at work
The importance of support at home was a theme at WiD UK that ran parallel to the theme of support at work. There was a wonderful ‘lightbulb’ moment during the conference when Payal Jain surprised guest speaker Håkan Nyberg with a video message from his wife Lisa. Payal had asked Lisa a couple of questions in advance of the conference so she could compare answers live on stage. When asked what enables the couple to succeed as CEOs of two leading banks and in marriage, both answered the same, they share responsibilities at home. Something as straightforward as sharing household burdens goes a long way to alleviating the concern that women need to transform themselves into Wonder Woman to succeed at work.

What can we expect for Women in Data UK 2018?
Founder Roisin McCarthy and Chair Payal Jain, will be doing even more over the next 12 months to help women to seek out mentors and connect with their 18,000-strong community of data professionals. More role models will also be promoted to encourage women on their journeys, in the form of ‘Twenty in Data and Tech’, the joint venture between Women in Data UK and The Female Lead.

It’s a WiD watch-phrase with: “we can make a difference together.” Let’s keep the conversation going on the dedicated Women in Data UK LinkedIn group.

Download the Women in Data UK 2017 Brochure