If you had asked me ten years ago, I am not sure I would have been interested in attending a women’s only networking event. After all, I was in a good job with a strong network and skills that were in high demand - what was there to discuss?
Yet if we look at the bigger picture, there was, and still remains, a large imbalance between men and women in STEM industries. This is even more prevalent in the field of big data.
When the idea of a Women in Big Data organisation was first raised by Intel in 2013, only 26% of computing professionals and 12% of working engineers were women in the United States, with similar figures across Europe.
Today, the forum includes over 16,000 people in six countries and I am very proud to stand as the Vodafone representative and chapter co-lead in Munich, Germany.
So what changed my mind?
I’ve written in the past that AI driven companies need to be more diverse, with many studies demonstrating that cognitive diversity actually encourages creativity and innovation.
Addressing imbalances in diversity is not about fairness, or because it’s the right thing to do - it’s about working towards a better experience through a mix of perspectives.
My own perspective changed as my husband and I prepared to return to work after our first child was born, when I noticed we were being asked a different set of questions.
I was being asked why I was going back to work so early (I was taking six months of parental leave and my partner three); what would happen with if I had to travel, how I was going to manage?
Those questions were only for me.
Of course, men face their own societal pressures when going back to work. In a study covering seven countries with over 12,000 participants, Promundo research found that fewer than half of men took the full time offered to them after birth or adoption.
It is clear that traditional expectations in society still play a large part in the decisions we take.
After noticing a similar situation with the birth of my second child two years later, I decided it was time for a change.
I wanted to refocus my energy; to work with likeminded people to inspire and guide others to take ownership of their career. Everyone should feel encouraged to study and seize the opportunities available without feeling guilty or restricted.
It is never too late and talent does not have a time limit.
From that moment on, it was clear that a forum like Women in Big Data was the perfect fit for me.
In the last two years, Vodafone has become a sponsor of the organisation and hosted many events across Europe.
I chaired a recent event in the Vodafone HQ in London, where we had a broad range of experiences present; from the Group Chief Data Officer to interns at the beginning of their data science journey.
We advertised through Meetup and attendees came from many industries including fashion, fast-moving-consumer-goods, technology and communications.
I am also pleased to say we also had several men join us. Regardless of gender, all in the room shared the same purpose – working together to grow diversity in the field of big data and support our colleagues and peers.
Rather than talk work life balance or how to manage with kids, experts from Amazon Web Services, SAP and Vodafone discussed platforms, strategy, tools and techniques. They swapped advice, contact details and career stories.
The confidence and passion in the room was contagious and I am very happy to carry it onto our next event happening in Munich.
Now, if you were to ask me if we need events like this I would invite you come and see for yourself! I am certain you would leave feeling inspired and ready to act as a role model for true diversity too.
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