In celebration of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share my thoughts on being a female data scientist in the tech sphere. I have been in tech for four years, and I am currently a Senior Data Scientist at Anaconda. With this year’s International Women’s Day theme being #BreakTheBias, I am excited to stand against gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping in tech. I’m sharing my experiences, hoping they will resonate with and provide perspective for other women looking to grow in their careers. According to BuiltIn, 66% of women [in tech] report that there is no clear path forward for them in their current roles. Additionally, 39% of women view gender bias as a primary reason for not being promoted. While many companies make a conscious effort to help women break into technical roles and bridge the gender gap, there is more we should be doing.
1. Find Role Models
Especially in male-dominated fields, having female role models is extremely important. Research shows that role models inspire women to be more ambitious and aim higher within their fields. Ask yourself: is there someone on your team or someone you know who you look up to, admire, want to learn from, and be more like? I have several female role models who I met through work and conferences. I observe how they work, communicate, and lead. I attend speaking sessions they are a part of, and I am motivated by their passion for what they do. A role model should be someone you aspire to be like and who can offer advice for your career.
Sometimes, it can be hard to find a role model or mentor, especially if you’re early in your career. A great way to start is through networking at in-person and virtual events and getting to know people who have roles and traits you admire. If you’re a student, career centers and professors can often help connect you with recent graduates as a starting place to meet professional role models. From my experience as a woman in tech, it is beneficial to have someone as a confidant who can help you navigate salary conversations, work performance, biases, and more.
2. Connect With People
Finding mentors and growing in your tech career begins with connecting with others. I like attending conferences, not only to learn what others have been working on, but also to network. As a data scientist who uses Python, I like going to local data science or Python meetups, PyData conferences, and SciPy conferences. There are also conferences specifically for women, such as Grace Hopper Celebration and Women in Data Science (WiDS). Networking groups for women provide a safe space to be vulnerable and open about your experiences and challenges. Research indicates that women benefit even more from networking by developing a small circle of close connections with women they trust.
It’s also helpful to connect with people in your organization. I recommend talking to individuals outside your department, learning about their day-to-day, seeing where you can complement them, and getting an idea of what you would like out of a career. I have many data scientist friends who pivoted to become software engineers or product managers, for example. If you don’t find passion in your current role, your friends in another department can help.
3. Build Influence
We all know that good communication in the workplace is essential for influencing others. However, this can be particularly challenging if you face bias from team members or if, like me, you identify as an introvert.
I naturally have introverted tendencies. However, I also tend to be super friendly, considerate, and agreeable. While these are positive traits, sometimes they make it hard for me to speak up, be heard, and influence others. I’ve learned that I’m not alone and that many women struggle with being heard and influencing decisions. I’ve also learned that if I want to share something or influence projects, I need to be myself and do things in a way that works for me and stakeholders.
To improve my external communication skills, I started writing. When I find it hard to convey thoughts out loud, writing is my best friend. Well-written documentation helps me communicate and explain my work, allows others to see the big picture, and inspires other teams to work on my projects. This has not only helped me influence others and gain buy-in from stakeholders, but it has improved my leadership skills, too.
4. Know Your Worth (Even When They Don’t)
As a follow-up to building influence, it’s also important to amplify your strengths and never sell yourself short. My strengths, for example, make me a good mediator and allow me to be patient and truly listen to my colleagues.
In addition to understanding your strengths, it’s crucial to own your accomplishments to help propel you forward in your career. Don’t be afraid to apply for that dream job or ask for the raise you deserve! Part of this is knowing your worth. Be sure you’re doing the research to understand what salary you should be making based on your role and location. Glassdoor, Indeed, and open conversations with others in the industry will help you understand what you should be asking for.
I’ve spoken to many women in tech, and it can be easy to experience imposter syndrome, especially on male-dominated teams. I often feel imposter syndrome when I don’t know an answer to something, and automatically question myself or feel unqualified. However, as the saying goes: “the more you know, the more you don’t know.” While not knowing something may be uncomfortable at the moment, it’s a beautiful thing to learn and grow from that experience. So if you’re ever feeling intimidated or undervalued, it’s important to have perspective and treat yourself with kindness. If you were not qualified, you wouldn’t be in your position. If your environment makes you feel inadequate, it may mean it’s time to move on and find a place where you are valued for your strengths and skillset.
5. Find a Healthy Work Environment
Life is too short not to work at a place where you feel like you belong. Red flags include daily bias confrontation, a gender gap in pay, and few female leadership positions—especially if the organization does not recognize these gaps or do anything to change. Everyone needs to advocate for fairness in the workplace; the onus of closing the gender gap should not fall to women alone.
It’s essential to look for an organization with a DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) team or committee, as well as processes to ensure diversity of thought, gender, experience, and background. While the organization may not have a perfect distribution of diversity, it’s critical that they keep a pulse on relevant initiatives and have goals and practices for diverse hiring, promoting diverse talent, and reducing bias. One of the reasons I love Anaconda is that we have a very healthy and supportive environment for everyone. Our DE&I team puts practices in place to hold us accountable and ensure psychological safety and support for team members from diverse backgrounds. Because of these initiatives, I feel like Anaconda cares about me personally, which has helped me grow in my career, be a better mentor, and harness my strengths. If you would like to work at a place where you are valued and supported, I encourage you to check out our careers page—we are hiring!
As a woman in tech, I’ve learned a lot from my female colleagues, and I hope that you find my experience helpful as you grow in your career. Let me know what you think by tweeting at me!; I’d love to hear your feedback and learn about your experience, too.