Be the change you want to see - lessons from Women in Data 2018

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Be the change you want to see.

This is the main message that I took away from the Women in Data conference hosted by Datatech Analytics. Last year, one audience member took the mic and questioned the lack of diversity among the women speakers and panellists. Although women of colour were present, there was a noticeable lack of black women on the stage.

Women in data conf 18 data trust panel with Yasmin Hinds and David ReedRoisin McCarthy, Women in Data co-founder responded that these issues will be worked through as a community. This year, the woman who posed that question Yasmin Hinds, was up on stage as a panellist debating trust.

I caught up with her at the networking drinks after the main event, and she told me that McCarthy had asked her to recommend a speaker that she would like to see, or even put herself forward. So she did. It was great to see the feedback acted on and progress made in 12 months.

It was also extremely heartening to see that demand for tickets was so great, with 1,000 women and a few males allies (including our very own David Reed) in attendance, that the event had to be moved to a bigger venue, Central Hall in Westminster. Women in Data co-founder Rachel Keane also said that there was a significant waiting list.

My highlights were the presentations by Helen Hunter the group chief data officer at Sainsbury's and Amanda Parker, freelance communications and strategy advisor.

Learn to be courageous. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Helen Hunter group CDO of Sainsbury's speaking at Women in DataHunter gave the stand-out presentation of the morning, in which she frankly discussed the challenges of being the first data officer of the supermarket group including the grocery business, the financial services business Sainsbury’s Bank, and Argos the catalogue business. She spoke of being given 60 days to show results, and how she demonstrated the value of her team to the stakeholders.

She did this by bringing the producers closer to the consumers of the data and so sped up the feedback loop and increased efficiency. Hunter also spoke of her frustration at being advised to just be more confident, something that many in the audience could relate to. Better advice would have been, "learn to be courageous – feel the fear and do it anyway," she said.

Amanda Parker’s presentation was called, "Notes to my future self," and it focused on self-esteem and self-belief. The audience was invited to write down the advice their teenage self would give to their adult self, giving us the opportunity to do some self-reflection and be proud of how far we have come.

Parker was an engaging speaker; getting in amongst the audience, showing us that she could do the "floss" dance move (as dancing was her thing as a teenager), sharing some personal heartfelt moments and ending with an uplifting quote from Dr Seuss: "Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!".

Perhaps some sessions could incorporate digital interaction.

With the number of attendees having more than doubled from last year’s 400 to this year’s 1,000 delegates, the venue’s upper gallery was almost full. Perhaps to better engage those who were not at the eye-level of the speakers, it would be good next year for some of the presentations to incorporate some digital interaction through tools like Slido and Menti.

By the end of the day, I had met new people, bumped into people I’d met at the same event last year, as well as one woman whom I’d met at an R Ladies London Meetup. Overall, Women in Data was a wonderful event with a fantastic atmosphere. With such an improvement in the space of a year, I can’t wait to see what WiD 2019 brings.

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