How to Survive and Thrive as a Woman in Data and Analytics
Three women in the tech and analytics fields offer advice for getting and staying ahead in a male-dominated environment.
- By Fern Halper
- April 8, 2019
I was fortunate to host TDWI's first Women's Panel in Las Vegas during our most recent conference. Since joining TDWI about seven years ago, I have been following and reporting on our annual salary survey. The report quantifies and interprets the compensation, roles, responsibilities, skills, and experience of individual BI and IT professionals. If you're a TDWI Member, you may have seen our salary survey report. The news from the salary survey is not ideal for women. For instance:
-- Women make up about 25-30 percent of the survey respondents, which is about the percent they represent in the data and analytics industry. We are definitely in a minority.
-- Likewise, women's salaries are lower than their male counterparts in data and analytics to the tune of about 90 cents on the dollar. This is better than the overall gender disparity (i.e., 80 cents on the dollar) but not where salaries need to be. Women in data and analytics also typically make less in bonuses than men for the same position.
-- Similarly, women often find themselves in lower-paying roles than men in BI and analytics. Even in higher-paying roles such as BI director, women are paid less than their male counterparts.
The goal of the panel was not to discuss salary discrepancies -- although they are clearly critical. We wanted to talk about challenges for women in data and tech.
Our panel included Lakshmi Purushothaman, senior director, risk analytics, Freddie Mac; Victoria Matiouchina, vice president, business intelligence and customer insights at Grand Circle Corporation, Inc.; and Minal Thakkar, senior experience group manager, aeronautics data and analytics, Lockheed Martin. Here are some of the key questions I asked and the panelists' advice. Notice how many of the tips were suggested by more than one panelist.
Fern Halper: How do you make your voice heard in order to be seen as a leader and get ahead as a woman in data and analytics?
Victoria Matiouchina: You have to get out there and make it happen for yourself. I think there are a variety of ways to do that.
First, you can organize free, in-person training opportunities for your teammates and users (user groups, meet-ups, etc.). Send an email to your peers and users to announce them, and follow up with invitations to individuals who express interest. You can make it a regular event -- monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly depending on availability. If you are already an expert in any area (either business or technical), start "lunch and learn" or "brown bag" training sessions for your peers and users. HR can help you coordinate resources such as reserving training rooms or equipment and supplying lunch.
If you have a successful project with a great story to share, find opportunities to make presentations outside of work. For example: submit an article to a publication, present at a local user group meeting, or become speaker at a conference or TDWI event. [Editor's note: Upside is always looking for new voices to share their experiences and best practices.]
Minal Thakkar: Making a list of initial goals is not a hard task. The hard part is allocating time, energy, and focus to achieve those goals. Devote time every day to a task that will aid in achieving personal or professional goals (or both). Do not put it off to the next day. Apply the agile methodology: take 5-10 minutes each day to review the day's plan and ensure you fit in the tasks for your own goals, assess what went wrong or what the challenges are and work to overcome them. Get in this habit and you will start seeing the results.
How do you promote yourself? Getting good grades gets your foot in the door. Working hard keeps you employed. Being a value-added employee gets you recognition. For advancement, you need to be seen as an individual with a vision, with strategies for the future not just day-to-day operations. To make yourself be perceived as a visionary, as having a strategic focus, you can do the following:
-- Send a weekly report of significant accomplishments to your leadership that provides the business value or capability you or your team's work delivered. Talking in terms of the value your work brought to your company will be more effective than describing technical deployments. Provide metrics whenever possible to quantify the impact of success.
-- Engage with your network. Having 500 or more connections on LinkedIn is of no use if you are not engaged with members of that network. Reach out to one connection a week so you can catch up and see what is going on with such elements as the culture, job market, and technology of other companies.
-- Present to be noticed. Make presentations at professional organizations as well as at company or department meetings. Attend and present at user groups. When you present, you get noticed -- which can result in prospective opportunities.
These will ignite the path to creating your personal brand.
Lakshmi Purushothaman: How do your promote yourself ? Build your personal brand.
-- Speak up. It's important to recognize your achievements and your team's achievements and communicate that to your leadership weekly. Highlighting your and your team's accomplishments with specific focus on strategic ideas, innovations, and operational efficiencies is a good tool to demonstrate how you are helping to grow the business and manage risk. It is important to communicate the wholistic view from ideation to execution to demonstrate leadership skills.
-- Promote your work inside and outside your organization, and establish yourself as an expert/thought leader in your area of expertise. Take the time to attend technology or data conferences such as TDWI and be a presenter. Organize and present at brown bag sessions in your company or at local networking or user groups. Publish blogs and white papers on topics related to data/technology challenges and how you or your team has resolved the challenges.
-- Network. Women pursuing careers in data and technology must be passionate about learning the field, from a business and a technical perspective. They must possess a desire to analyze the data, and to identify patterns and anomalies. Connect with your network; read and learn to be up to date with data and technology trends.
I coach robotics teams, help with school STEM programs, volunteer in the scouts STEM program, and mentor women in my office. All these activities give me the opportunity to meet other leaders and experts within the community and learn new technology and data trends in different fields.
I also take the time to volunteer, write articles, and sign up for public speaking engagements in hopes that other women can become inspired and more comfortable to speak up and share their ideas. It's how I take charge of my career path.
-- Be proactive. In order to advance your career, you must seek opportunities and not wait for someone to give them to you.
-- Have confidence that you can make an impact. I have learned that I must be an active participant in everything I do and own my actions.
Fern Halper: Do you think it is important to have a mentor? How did you go about finding one?
Victoria Matiouchina: Absolutely. Find a person in the business unit you design solutions for who can be your mentor and who can spread the good word to others about the great work you do. He/she can be your referral to other people/teams in your organization, nominate you for excellence in service, teamwork, or other awards your company may have, and even help recommend you for promotion.
Lakshmi Purushothaman: I have had several mentors throughout my career, both male and female. I completed a self-evaluation to identify the areas where I needed the most guidance and asked people within my network, including my manager, to suggest people who could help me grow. It's important to know what type of guidance you need and seek out mentors who can help in areas such as business acumen, technical skills, and leadership skills. I also recommend that women seek out an experienced female mentor who has risen in her profession and experienced similar challenges. Generally, learning from others who've walked in your shoes can help you avoid pitfalls and understand the best course to take in your road to advancement.
Minal Thakkar: The tech industry is vast, competitive, and growing. If you are starting out or changing careers, you want to know what different opportunities and kinds of companies are out there. Not knowing can land you at a job where you may doubt your own abilities to survive in this cutthroat tech world. A mentor can counsel you because he/she has likely experienced some of the same challenges that you are going through.
Fern Halper: Women often find that if they are assertive they are viewed as being a "bitch." What are your thoughts on this perspective?
Lakshmi Purushothaman: In a technology career, it can be extremely hard to be yourself. Women often attempt to adapt to the type of leader that may appear to be more successful in the traditional tech environments. Many of the soft skills that are considered to be feminine characteristics (empathy, humility, and transparency) are skills that enable us to adapt and innovate quicker, collaborate well, and solve problems. However, we often see women taking on characteristics they feel they need to succeed in a male-dominated industry. We need more women and minorities in the technical workforce to create a supportive environment for all types of leadership styles to succeed. Power is in the collective voice.
Victoria Matiouchina: Our society associates power in women with aggression and anger while gentle and kind women are portrayed as weak. This is as far from the truth as possible -- without inner strength gentleness and kindness we would be shattered in no time. Don't "play it small."
-- Don't wait to be asked to provide your services, to showcase your talent, or to talk at the meeting. If you wait to be asked, the opportunity may never come.
-- Don't let criticism crush you. Nobody's perfect, and not everybody is going to love you. That doesn't discredit your success or your talent. Criticism shouldn't crush you. Use it to make yourself better.
-- Don't let "No" crush you. Don't see it as confirmation that you failed. You're going to hear "No" dozens of times before you hear one "Yes." It doesn't mean you give up.
-- If offered promotion, do not let self-doubt get in your way. Say "Yes" to a promotion. Chances are if you do not know everything 100 percent you can learn it (why would you be offered the promotion to begin with?). Just make sure you get a raise with a promotion; if not, ask for it.
Fern Halper: What other advice would you give to women in data and analytics?
Lakshmi Purushothaman: Women tend to think that climbing the corporate ladder means they have to sacrifice their personal lives. There are absolutely ways to have both a successful career and a personal life. It must be done with the understanding that there will be different points in your career where the balance can shift.
Women should be open to seeking out help. Curb any tendency to "do it all by themselves." Women should also be open to having a support system, such as child care, to help them with their career growth. It's important to manage your career by advancing it at the right times and pausing it when needed. Women must find their own way to advance in their careers.
Take risks. Be willing to try something completely different. Take on a new role or propose a new idea. Learn from the experience and apply it to the next opportunity. Don't think you have to be 100 percent qualified to seek out an opportunity.
Be you. Do what you love and don't let anyone tell you that you can't.
Minal Thakkar: I have three suggestions.
First, focus in one area. Analytics, mobile apps, social media -- whatever interests you. Develop a niche skill within that area so you become the go-to person. At the same time, don't become stale. With technology changes, business processes and applications are constantly evolving. What you do today may not be needed tomorrow.
Second, become a life-long learner. Don't stop with what is cutting-edge today. Stay on the forefront of technology. Leverage company-provided resources and invest time in yourself to grow
Finally, develop business acumen. You will design better products and make better decisions because you know what matters to the business. It will also instill confidence when talking to your customers and prioritizing work for yourself or your teams. Knowing the business vocabulary will allow you to speak about the success of your products in terms of the business value delivered.