Breaking the Bias: Challenges and Solutions


By Emma Ankarberg

As part of International Women’s Day celebrations, Wiserfunding joined a distinguished online panel to talk about ‘Breaking the Bias’. The panel discussion, sponsored by She Loves Data, was moderated by Angelica Cullinan and Natasha Yong and featured senior panelists with diverse backgrounds ranging from Sophie Smith, a JDX Consulting leader, Kieran Towey, MD in Applied Intelligence at KPMG, Laura Kennedy, Head of Technology Search and Selection at Lincoln Recruitment Specialists, and our very own, Jeff Courtney, COO at Wiserfunding.

The panel’s diverse backgrounds underpinned a rich discussion and exchange of views though a few consistent themes surfaced throughout the conversation.

Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

During the panel discussion, the importance of taking risks and putting yourself forward in the workplace was highlighted as a core recommendation for anyone who has struggled to get traction in their tech and data career. Laura Kennedy shared a story of a female data engineer who decided to change the way she worked; she asked to run as many presentations as possible while continuing to sharpen her skills outside of work. It took some persistence but, eventually, after demanding her spotlight, sharpening her communication skills, and delivering some impactful presentations, she was promoted several times and went on to become the person being presented to.

The panel all agreed that putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and adapting to overcome them is the best way to drive your career. Waiting for the ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ opportunity to come along is a reliable path to disappointment. Too ‘uncomfortable’ to leverage your network for job opportunities? Worried you don’t have the skills to apply for a job? Reach out to interesting people within your network, apply for the job you’re not 100% qualified for and get comfortable with the fact that you are uncomfortable – that is the soil where careers can take root and grow.

Another topic discussed by the panel was how women in the data space steer away from displaying their expertise. Sophie Smith, Head of Data and Technology at JDX consulting, raised an important point from experience which is for many women, the fear of inadequate performance is stronger than the evident success they have contributed to. This creates an environment that is unfavorable for women to accurately report their skills, perhaps leaving them second-guessing themselves, underselling their capabilities, and even keeping entire skill-sets out of sight.

A Career in Data

Another theme that emerged throughout the panel discussion was the misperception that data and tech roles require advanced analytical and technical skills. Evidence of this issue can be found in McKinsey’s ‘Women in the Workplace’ report from 2021 where 65,000 employees participated. McKinsey concludes that women are more likely to feel judged or worried when applying for new positions, a problem men do not face on the same scale. This misperception about the requirement of an advanced data degree or skillset may well lead some women to pass on applying for opportunities in the digital world out of fear of inadequacy.

The panel all agreed that advanced tech skills are not always required for a career in data. On the contrary, companies are often times looking for someone who is able to ask the right questions, understand the root business issues, and able to tell an effective story that brings together diverse stakeholders to take action - using data.

Recognition

As the panel discussion moved on to a more general discussion about women in the workplace, several interesting anecdotes were shared. Laura raised an important note about women supporting women in the workplace. The panel agreed that all genders must be as inclusive and supportive as possible in order to “break the bias” and make the workspace more equal and rewarding. The solution to women struggling to enter the data space, or progress within that same space, does not depend on men’s ability or willingness to let them in – a gender-free initiative is required. Jeff noted the importance of creating an environment where new ideas were welcome, where it was acceptable to have silly, playful conversation and explore different perspectives as this can reduce the need to keep up appearances, creating an environment where judging others is not the norm and creative problem solving can flourish. The takeaway from this discussion is that this problem cannot be tackled from a purely gender-based lens. It is up to companies and management teams to create the right space for all employees to ensure a safe and healthy environment for diverse experiences and perspectives

Key takeaways

While the experience and expertise represented across the panel was very diverse, they all agreed on several points during the session which shows that the challenges and solutions are industry-wide.

If you want to build a career in tech and data:

  • Make sure you put yourself forward and keep doing so until you have the opportunity to shine. Raise your hand to run the big presentation and keep raising your hand until you do, get comfortable with being uncomfortable and you will eventually be the one being presented to.
  • It’s not all about technical skills – the right mindset, a passion for understanding and solving problems and a strong sense of storytelling are too often rare and valuable skills that can accelerate your career in tech and data.
  • Companies and management teams creating a safe and healthy work environment is key a key element in benefiting from a teams’ diverse experiences and perspectives

What struck me the most from this panel discussion is how important it is for companies to create a culture that fully leverages the benefits of diversity—one in which all employees, not just women, feel comfortable bringing their unique ideas, perspectives, and experiences to the table.

She Loves Data is a non-profit social enterprise that inspires women around the globe to become active contributors in an increasingly data-driven world. Empowering women to pursue careers in data & tech, they provide mentorship, soft skills development, and networking opportunities along with organising webinars and workshops that help women become data and digitally literate. Wiserfunding is proud to be able to support, and learn from, such an important initiative

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