It was standing room only at the Women in Data 2017 conference, hosted by DataTech Analytics, which attracted over 400 delegates. The highlight was the palpable energy with attendees – having taken onboard advice from the day’s speakers - swapping stories, sharing contact details and expanding their support networks.
The speakers and panellists all drove home the fact that diversity - in all its facets of gender, ethnicity, physical ability, sexual orientation and more - is good for business.
The CEO of Ikano Bank, Håkan Nyberg, put it most succinctly when he said :“It’s super simple. Diversity makes better decisions, better decisions builds better businesses and better businesses can deliver better profit.”
Another standout moment took place when Payal Jain, chair of Women in Data 2017 and 2016’s DataIQ100 leader, interviewed Nyberg - her former boss - and brought his wife into the conversation. Lisa Nyberg, who is also the CEO of a Swedish bank, made a brief appearance via video to give her perspective of their ways of working.
Lisa Nyberg said that she and her husband have the same management style as they share the same values of a love of communication and socialising with employees. She did say, however, that in the past Håkan's leadership and management style was more from a IQ perspective, but over the years he has adopted her style which is more from an EQ perspective.
Jain remembered fondly how much she was pushed to achieve her potential by her former boss without overemphasising her gender, and that, when he started his latest job, he complained that there were not enough women on the leadership team.
When Jain asked how the couple support each other, Håkan Nyberg said that they split their home-life responsibilities down the middle with nanometre precision. His wife added that the person who gets home first buys the food and cooks dinner. “We are equal, and we support each other and that is how it must be,” she said.
The Partnership Panel session, moderated by Jain and co-moderated by DataIQ Editor-in-Chief David Reed, featured female representatives from all the event's sponsors, who discussed how their companies are enabling them to fulfil their potential in their careers as data professionals.
Sarah Redman, head of customer experience and training at Experian, said it is important that companies allow people to have a life outside of work.
Ramneet Julka, head of analytics and customer research at Barclays, said that when managers and senior executives make use of flexible working policies like working from home or time off for personal interests, it gives a tacit green light to more junior staff that is professionally acceptable.
Athina Kanioura, global data science lead at Accenture, gave a piece of advice to women at work, in that they should push, plan and ask for promotion when they feel they deserve it.
Kanioura was alluding to the different ways that men and women behave in the workplace, an issue that was discussed in detail by Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer at MediaCom and co-author of The Glass Wall. In her presentation, Unerman spoke about the insidious ways that males and females are treated differently even as young children in WEIRD countries – these are Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic nations.
These patterns of treatment and behaviour are entrenched throughout the years and manifests in implicit gender inequality in the workplace. Unerman explained that ‘the glass ceiling’ implies that everything is fine and dandy and equal between men and women until they reach senior positions in a company.
However, she said ‘the glass wall’ is a better analogy. “It is being excluded from decisions made on the squash court or the golf course,” she clarified. She added that in her book there is an example of someone who was the only woman in her team for a group project. She found herself out of the loop and a step behind as decisions were being made outside of their meetings in the gents’ toilets.
Unerman made another appearance on stage at the end of the event as she was unveiled as one of the "20 in Data & Technology", a list of women who have made an impressive mark in this field. The line-up of 20 is the result of a collaboration between Women in Data and The Female Lead campaign, founded by data stalwart Edwina Dunn. It aims to “create a step-change in gender parity particularly at senior levels,” by showcasing exceptional female data professionals.
Yasmeen Ahmad, director at Think Big Analytics and a member of the 2017 DataIQ 100, is also part of the 20 in Data, as is Noorin Virani, senior CRM manager L’Oreal UK and Ireland who spoke at the DataIQ Summit. All 20 women took to the stage to talk about their careers and aspirations to offer words of wisdom. Ahmad’s words of advice were: “It’s scary to step out there and make decisions without all the information at your fingertips. You must take a leap of faith and that’s been a key learning lesson for me.”
The audience was also privy to a cosy conversation-interview between Fedelma Good, director at PwC, and Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, in which they discussed their backgrounds and how they got started in their data careers. Denham was relatively positive in that she said the data industry's glass ceiling for women is not as strong as the one that exists in technology. She added that the next generation of “data divas” will probably be Girl Guides who have earnt their cyber-security badges.
In the spirit of openness, the audience was given the chance to question the organisers. One attendee brought up the fact that diversity in all its facets was not represented on stage and said that she did not see herself reflected by the speakers. In her view, women of colour and women with different cultural needs are undervalued and are subject to negative stereotyping and racial bias within the industry. She also suggested a way to improve this situation could be that senior women mentor junior women who are unlike themselves.
Women in Data co-founder Roisin McCarthy accepted the observation that the panellists could have been more diverse and took on the challenge to make speakers more diverse in the future, adding, “we’re going to work through these issues as a community.”
A key takeaway from this event came from Jain, who encouraged attendees to recognise their worth and in doing so force others to do the same. She said: “We have to stop trading at a discount and start trading at a premium.”