At the Women in Data Science Pune Conference we speak to the WiDS Pune Ambassador Sucheta Dhere about the conference, its objectives and its impact on women participation in the field of Data Science. Excerpts -
How did the concept of WiDS evolve and grow? How did you get associated with it?
WiDS is a brand owned by Stanford University which stands for Women in Data Science. The objective of this initiative is to encourage more women in upcoming technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Data Science (DS).
These fields do not have enough women participation and WiDS wishes to change that. WiDS is an annual conference that happens worldwide in collaboration with Stanford University and coincides with International Women’s Day.
At WiDS conference, we exclusively feature female speakers who have done outstanding work in their respective scientific fields. The objective is to create more female leaders and speakers by recognizing these outstanding women who can serve as role models. WiDS Pune is a non-profit initiative, all the organizers work on pro bono basis. WiDS Pune helps build confidence, self-esteem and motivation of hundreds of women in Pune. It has inspired them to take up more, do more and build their identity.
How have gender dynamics operated in data science, both globally and in India, over the past few years?
In general, the gender diversity is low at all levels starting from school education, to higher education to job, to high profile roles. However, there is a lot of awareness amongst Tier I MNCs and some of them have mandates and targets to improve gender diversity.
There are problems in induction, retention and growth of women employees. There is a huge chunk of women, highly educated, engineers and management graduates who leave their jobs within first 3 to 5 years for marriage, motherhood and elderly care. When they want to come back to work, they face lot of challenges and barriers.
Many corporates are now sensitive to these women and are opening doors for 2nd careers but the problem regarding how and where they get placed in their career still persists.
What are some challenges women face in this field? How do they differ in India and across the world?
The challenges are same across India and the world. One of the major challenges is that women are in a minority and hence do not have a voice in major decision making. While many organizations are highly sensitive about gender diversity, issues of inclusion and belongingness still persist. Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice and belongingness is having that voice heard.
Traditionally, organizational policies and environment were designed for men. Many organizations need to change their policies, beliefs and philosophy to make their organizations women-friendly and inclusive.
Other challenges include equal pay, equal opportunity, gender stereotypes and lack of fast track career path for returning women. Corporates need to change their hiring philosophy and hire based on competency and skills and not consider a break in the academics or career as a stigma.
If corporates create roles which can cater to such needs, it can be a win-win proposition.
One of the things WiDS 2020 promotes is multidisciplinarity. How do you think multidisciplinarity contributes to advancing women leaders in data science?
WiDS promotes women working in AI, ML, DS. These fields need multi-disciplinary skills, subject expertise and domain knowledge, especially in the subjects of Maths, Statistics and Computer Programming.
Additionally, in today’s day and age everyone needs to constantly work, learn, read and retain a competitive edge over others. For this, one needs to develop certain soft skills like team work, communications, writing, self-branding, digital identity and so on. WiDS Pune promotes overall development of women’s identity and self-esteem and helps them builds confidence by taking a holistic and multidisciplinary approach.
How do you envision the future of women in data science and the role of the WiDS initiative in it?
WiDS Pune is a platform where we inspire and motivate people to educate themselves in data science, support women who aspire to skill, re-skill and up-skill themselves. We do this throughout the year by having programs such as meetups, study groups, structured mentoring for hackathons, personalized mentoring and internships. Thanks to WiDS Pune conference, they get an opportunity to work on practical aspects by gaining hands-on experience at commercial projects.
In addition, WiDS Pune has tied up with Icertis, Facebook, Analytics Vidhya, GDG and many other organizations and communities to rope in diverse opportunities. Several job and internship opportunities at various organizations are also promoted within our closed group. WiDS Pune is a platform of opportunities but ultimately it depends on individual efforts and beliefs and the ability to leverage them. We are working on supporting corporates and women candidates to help them identify mutual needs and collaborate.
Sucheta Dhere is a data scientist and WiDS Pune Ambassador.