Mentor

By Sarah Robertson, Experian

I remember as a child how much I enjoyed maths. 

I was lucky enough to go to a primary school that positively encouraged me to progress in a subject that has traditionally led to male-dominated job roles. That early support, along with strong female role models in my family, helped me grow in a subject I love and shaped my career in data.

However, many statistics are telling us that there are thousands of skilled, innovative and talented women out there who aren’t even considering a career in STEM, let alone data.  It’s clear to me that more support is needed to empower and encourage a new generation into the data science industry.  I’m a firm believer that we need to start working with girls at an early age to help breakdown the stereotypes and obsolete views that certain professions are gender-specific.

Take my son’s infant school, for example.  When he left in July, the school played a video showing what each child wanted to be when they were older.  Each answer lived up to a gender stereotype. It made me question how and why this happens, even in the most progressive households.  As a collective group, we need to broaden our children’s minds on the possible.  STEM careers of the future will only be more exciting, more varied, more significant to our digital, technological and data-driven society.

It is also important that we start encouraging girls to take risks, the same way we do with boys.  Girls should be brave, not perfect.  STEM subjects tend to have a right or wrong answer in early education, and if girls are not brave enough to be wrong, then they won’t challenge themselves with STEM subjects.  We must teach our daughters that it is OK to take risks.  It is OK to be wrong.  It is OK to learn something new.

Part of encouraging the next generation also means recognising and celebrating the achievements of the female role models working in data today.  Role models like Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who can inspire others and show them that a career in STEM is possible.  Having the chance to hear from these inspirational figures, what they love about their jobs, how they got there, and what they’ve overcome to achieve success is crucial.  Their stories can inspire the women of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps and to blaze their own trails.

However, we can’t rely solely on these well-known role models to single-handedly change an entire generation’s thinking.  We all have a responsibility to be role models in what we do.  More and more businesses are creating closer links with schools, colleges and universities giving the perfect opportunity to support younger people considering certain careers.  This is hugely important for girls wanting to get into STEM.

We’re in a stronger position than we’ve ever been before in the data industry, supported by some fantastic initiatives – like M&S, who recently announced their intention to turn more than 1000 of their staff into data scientists.  This is a huge step in the right direction, potentially opening doors for more women to find their passion in data science.

Despite still having a long way to go, we have made significant progress redressing gender imbalance in STEM, supported by a strong and passionate community.  I’m excited to continue doing my bit to encourage a new generation of girls to become part of the data revolution.

Sarah Robertson featuredAbout the author

In the early stages of Sarah’s career there was a clear lack of female role models working in the data industry, so she made it her mission to support the women that worked in her teams, as well as her peers and friends within the industry.

After Sarah graduated, she was unsure of what career to pursue but felt at the time IT was her preferred choice. This led to a temporary contract with IBM working in IT, but she quickly learnt that it wasn’t for her and started exploring jobs in statistics. She landed a role with a marketing agency in their analytics division and absolutely loved it! It was then that analysing data to understand consumer behaviour became a passion of hers. That was over 20 years ago and she’s never looked back.

Sarah is keen to address the imbalance of men and women across our industry, she is heavily involved in the event Women in Data UK and contributing to her current business on recruiting more females into data roles.

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