Engaging with Tomorrow’s Data Stars
I recently gave a data careers talk to a group of Year 11 girls from a local school, and I can tell you it was one of the most nerve shredding experiences of my life. Having been a teenage girl myself I can easily remember how much I rolled my eyes when some cringeworthy, over enthusiastic grown-up would tell me about the importance of STEM subjects. I wondered how my teenage self would perceive the adult I am now.
But in honesty I don’t remember anyone coming into school to talk about their careers, I had only a vague idea of the real life application of the subjects we were being taught. That was either the consequence of it never having happened, or it being so unengaging as to have completely passed me by.
At age 16 academia did not inspire me, my dream was to be an actress! Despite being pretty good at maths, I certainly wasn’t taking Maths at A-level, let alone to degree level – after all what would I do with that? Once the draw of the stage had faded, I opted for an A-level and degree in Psychology, and that was the start of my love affair with data. I was fascinated by what lay within these rows and columns, and how they could be brought to life to understand the world (or at least a small part of it).
When I was asked to give a talk to inspire girls into a career in data, my first thought was one of enthusiasm – I love the work I do and as a woman in a male dominated career, it felt like a duty that I couldn’t ignore. However it was closely followed by wondering ‘am I the right person to do this?’ ‘No maths A-level?!’ I can still hear those latter words ringing in my ears from a former colleague, who was quite literally staggered by this revelation. But, the more I reflected, the more I realised that self-doubt and performance anxiety are one of the factors that push girls and women away from a rewarding career in data. The diversity of skills and experience represented by the women in the data industry are the very things that make us great at it. Fundamentally, a career in data is about being a creative problem solver, and any woman who has achieved senior positions in the industry will have had to solve tons of problems to have gotten where they are, and I don’t just mean data ones! And, because we are creative problem solvers, we can apply what we do to virtually anything, and that’s what makes this such an exciting industry to work in.
Anyway, back to these Year 11 girls. I knew I had to create an inspiring, interactive session – I couldn’t just talk at them (about me), I needed to show them the variety, the creativity, the collaboration and innovation, I also needed to impress upon them how much we needed their voices at that decision making table… I needed some help. So, I reached out to Roisin (co-founder of WID), and I was delighted by her enthusiasm for what I was doing. I appreciate that while a big deal to me, this is one talk to one group of girls, so I wasn’t sure anyone would have time to help, but Roisin made me realise that we desperately need a perception shift towards careers in data from school age.
One of the things I asked for was some stats for a quiz and they really were sobering:
‘For every 4 males entering a career in data, only 0.68 females do’
Something about that image of not even a whole female really struck me, how is this fraction of a female going to get her voice heard? One day I’d love to see equal numbers, but in the meantime let’s aim to get that to a full whole number.
About Lisa McKenna
Lisa is Head of Data at Yoppie, a period care company that provides organic products on a personalised plan.