If they cannot see it – they cannot be it
Can you tell us about your background and journey to your current role?
I studied Marketing and Languages at University and after graduation, I went straight in to my first job at Dell Computers in Ireland, it was the start of the tech boom in Ireland and Dell had just opened their first European Sales office in Bray, Co Wicklow.
So I was one of the new kids in the block getting in to this new IT game!
Dell is one of the reasons why I champion women to go in to Tech and Data Science, they were a really great company to work for, I had a great start to my career and I didn’t observe any differences between men and women. If there was a job to be done, it would get done as a team or by the best person to do it. In any interviews, the best candidate would get the job. Dell were a progressive company, even 20 years ago and were very supportive of working mothers. I didn’t have children at the time but I noticed that the mothers knew that they could take time out and they didn’t need to ‘keep up’ with their male colleagues, or feel that mother’s guilt I have felt since having my own children!
When I moved from Ireland to Scotland and I’ve noticed there is similar support for women in IT and data, completely different from New York and London, which are very male-dominated. Scotland is almost matriarchal in the way that senior women look out for one another and mentor the younger generation coming along. (of course there are exceptions and I am not saying everything is perfect, but we need to look for the positives, and celebrate them, in the way women are supported in the workplace and also by each other)
At the Data Lab I’m involved in an initiative called Women in Data Science in partnership with Stanford University and I’m an ambassador for WIDS in Scotland. This involves an annual conference at Stanford University plus regional events that coincide with this in over 50 countries around the world. At our most recent local event, schoolgirls from St Kents in West Lothian ran the whole event organising the marketing, branding, venue booking etc. We had 70+ school girls, over 80 women data scientists plus some men. The event these girls delivered was phenomenal and it makes me really hopeful for the future of women in data science in Scotland, especially how supportive these girls’ teachers and principals are. I constantly use the quote “if they cannot see it they cannot be it” so by doing work like this with school girls we can show them what it is like to work in tech and Data.
Are you confident that women’s representation in data science, tech and STEM more widely, will improve?
Yes, I do, because the majority of Women and Men in Scotland are working hard towards this.
When it is not happening – I do get the “Eye turning” around here she goes again.. but I don’t care, if I see women being under represented then I will call it out – and sometimes there are repercussions for me but I will continue to do it.
But more of us need to do it (both men and women) rather than the “there she goes again” so that peoples eyes get sore from turning them upto heaven!
We need to have the hard conversations to ensure improvements happen, walk the walk rather than just talking the talk!
Recently, there was an event I attended and all of the speakers were men and most of the invitees were male. I called it out in Twitter and the organisers did respond and said they’ll do better for next year –So we need to wait a year for more women to be included???
If we want to see true representation and innovation in Scotland, we need to start with the basics of inviting and attracting more women and making a conscious effort around events, speaking opps and panels etc.
At another event – I was delivering a presentation at, to about 30 men and 2 women. One man asked me ‘how do I get my daughter interested in STEM?’ I responded ‘ why are you asking me? Look around this room. What could you have done around this event to ensure more women were involved?
Please don’t ask me silly obvious questions around diversity to make yourself look good, look around and the problem is there, the obvious representation issues.
Again it should not be down to 1 or two people and everyone has a part to play.
What would you recommend to women and girls who would like to go in to what you’re doing?
What work hard at the Data Lab around personal development and we ensure everyone has the resources they need to sell themselves and talk confidently about their work.
I see schoolchildren who are more confident than women in data science. We need to be equipping women to pitch themselves, take up opportunities, not just concentrating on the technical skills but ensuring the softer skills are covered too!
Also women look at job descriptions and think I am not going to apply because they don’t know how to do most of the work, you wont know everything about every job you go into, we all need to keep learning!
Its not imposter syndrome – its life, we wont know everything all the time and need to give ourselves the breathing space to learn!
Yes, lifting each other up. So do you find your current work supportive of women?
Yes, I do and I hope others do too! But we can always do more, I want to ensure we are not just “supportive” of women, but we are walking the walk!
Can you tell us a bit more about what a typical day looks like for you at Data Lab?
The reason why I love working here is that it is very diverse – one day we’re working with a company using data science to design and measure the impacts of interventions, another day I’m working with academics and then the next maybe meeting the next potential Data Science Inward investor into Scotland –
I have a fantastic team across Business Development, Marketing and Funding who I mentor and coach to be the most amazing, high performing team that a lot of companies are very jealous of!
Are there any particular projects you’re proud of?
The UNICEF collaboration. It wasn’t easily but it’s such an impactful project which will hopefully solve some really complex problems facing children in Scotland and world wide.
We met UNICEF in New York and they were setting up their Collaborative data hub, but were struggling to recruit data scientists in New York and we said ‘why not do in Edinburgh!’ where there is the talent, infrastructure and the Can Do Attitude!
I took the idea to the City Deal and I said ‘this makes complete sense’ and they provided £1.5 million and Scottish Government provided match funding.
I did all this on top of my day job and I’m immensely proud of this project, having spent lots of hours on it outside of work and when my children were in bed and so on. I’m not involved with the nitty gritty anymore because its all up and running but I still have an advisory role and a passion to ensure that this project is successful for children all over the world.
I am also extremely proud of what we have achieved in the Data Lab, and every day I am thankful for a job like this where we get to do great things with great people!
It’s revolutionary! So, is there anything you wish you could do more of that you don’t get time to?
Building the women in data science community has been a slow process (for me) and wish I had even more time to dedicate to this.
We need to expose more young girls to data science. There’s a lot of programmes ran by corporates but they tend to be in London – how could we bring these into Scotland? This corporates want people in data science for a sustainable future, so they need to do even more to engage with girls across all of the UK. Again, it’s not just a government/education responsibility.
We need more mentors and role models out there as well, to project the message ‘this is what maths, this is what coding can do – If they cannot see it they cannot be it!
I have to keep reminding myself – I am doing the best I can with the time that I have!
What do you look forward to in your work?
As you know, the City Deal is looking to make Edinburgh the data capital. I think even bigger than this – I think Scotland as a whole, if we really crack this, we will be the world leaders in data science. And women and girls will have a big role in this.
Women and girls bring immense amounts to data science. Because of the skills and roles they’ve been accustomed to, they bring a different dynamic and a different way of seeing problems and solving problems. For the women working on the Data Collaboratives UNICEF project, they’re not just seeing algorithms in the data, they’re seeing real children’s lives and bringing a “maternal” focus to the projects.
There are lots of great women at the Data Lab, it’s quite matriarchal in the sense that if there’s a job to be done, let’s get on with, women get on with it.
What do you do when the working day is over?
I try and do cross fit 5 times a week and also have a fantastic running partner who we are able to run 10k in 55 mins and chat, quicker if we don’t talk!
I also have a 14 and an 11 year old daughter who keep me on my toes and I do theirs!
What’s the best opportunity you’ve had in your career thus far?
I have always worked with Men as my leaders previous to the Data Lab, and they have created every opportunity for me, but they will say that I took them and ran with them.
That is why it is important that women and men work together around diversity, and we both need each other in the workplace and also at home!
Do you have a fun fact about yourself?
I think anyone who is reading this, has more than one about me, most of them I wouldn’t put on paper!
Jude talks more about her thoughts on gender equality at work in this article in the Guardian.