Legal professional and SLD workshop attendee Low Wei Ling speaks to Tay Soo Sien on two of her passions: Tech and animals
Founder of Keep C.A. T. S., a Singapore initiative that looks after stray cats, Low Wei Ling was an attendee of one of She Loves Data’s free workshops. Wei Ling is just the kind of person She Loves Data attracts: one who is curious and constantly seeking to do things better.
“As Gandhi said, how you treat animals is a reflection of your society.” Wei Ling reminded me as we found a quiet corner to chat. Like some, she felt society looks at things too much from an economical value point of view. Hence, strays are seen as a burden rather than opportunities. Yet, animals have their value, even strays, as they can be adopted, and teach children about kindness.
The cat aficionado also shared how understanding SQL at She Loves Data workshops sparked completely new ideas about the way we handle animals. Rescue organizations used to need to spend an inordinate amount of time on logistics and operational tasks. Now, there is the choice to automate and streamline many such activities. This allows them to spend more time caring for animals; serving a larger and wider community of pet adopters.
The serial socialpreneur thought about using data to see what kinds of cats are most often adopted or what are the peak periods for abandonment. She wondered aloud how different animal welfare groups can work together to collate such data, noting that it was almost an imperative since they are already so tight with resources.
Looking back at the first workshop she attended, Wei Ling added, “I really like it because it gives me an introduction to what data analytics is about- just a taster!” Subsequently, she met up with course instructor and Director, Consulting and Client Solutions at Meiro, Quinn Pham who helped her understand the challenges and possibilities of using an aggregator based solution for a unified platform for multiple animal welfare groups.
With her interest in data sufficiently piqued, Wei Ling took the plunge, obtained a scholarship, and finished her data science studies in Hong Kong. She was only one of two females out of a class of fifteen men.
We wish her every success in her data and Keep C.A.T.S. endeavours!
Sophie Guerin is the Head of Diversity & Inclusion for Asia Pacific, Greater China, and Japan (APJC) at Dell Inc. She is co-author of “Examining Diversity & Inclusion from an Asian Perspective” and “Developing Dependency” which explores special economic zones in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.
She Loves Data spoke to Guerin, who is widely recognised for her expertise in the field. This interview is a deep dive on making Diversity and Inclusion an integral part of any business, especially those with scale, touching on India and China.
She Loves Data: How does one ensure the success of D&I when the company is spread across such a wide expanse of geographical and cultural terrain?
Generally, it’s about what you’re trying to achieve in the context that you’re operating in. I think it’s really important that D&I professionals or anyone who is really passionate about this topic spends the time to truly understand their business, the industry and the economy in which they operate. Because ultimately, I see my job as someone who is driving better business performance through the lens of D&I. That helps to drive more sustainable economic growth in the communities that we operate in and for our own organisation. So when it becomes a business imperative rather than a moral imperative, that message resonates across all countries in Asia.
Each country has different nuances, different cultural priorities, different government priorities and so we have to be respectful and mindful of that and allow for localisation because that’s ultimately what’s going to address systemic barriers to equality …So I think as long as we keep it positioned as a business issue, that allows people to really look at how are we creating greater economic opportunities through meritocracy, through equality, through our programming, our go to market strategy, and not become a question of do I believe this or not because the business case is already well proven- that’s not up for debate.
She Loves Data: We agree that it is more than a positioning or education issue. How does this play into the Asian workplace?
Historically, when you look at D&I it has been positioned as a moral debate or an ethical debate, and there’s a time and place for that but I don’t think that in Asia (because of the complexity of the market) that’s really the most relevant position. You have economies where people have moved out of poverty in a generation. That’s an enormous transition for an individual, for a country, and for corporations that operate in that space.
Ultimately, what we really want to do is empower economic opportunities and if that’s what we’re really wanting to achieve then that’s what we need to keep it grounded in. That is what is going to make sense. At least it also means you make use of your resources effectively, you invest your time effectively, you invest your leaders’ time effectively because then you’re really solving for the problems in the market rather than trying to impose ideas or behaviours that may not necessarily be culturally appropriate.
She Loves Data: Yes. Resistance is common. Can you elaborate on your ideas about difficulties in convincing for change?
One of the challenges we often have in the D&I space is when it is positioned as a moral or ethical issue, or a nice to have. It is often one of the first things that gets cut in the company if there’s any financial uncertainty. When you’re caught in that space that leads to higher attrition, it decreases your competitiveness in the market. It underfunds greater economic growth in the community.
So we know that the long term ripple effects, the medium ripple effects of de-investing in D&I are significant but with companies’ ROIs (Return on Investment), that’s not the timeline they’re looking at. So if you can reframe it as not a nice to have, but a business imperative, that one needs to continue to invest and to capitalise on those opportunities, either within the broader communities which operate for your own organisation, that’s not likely to happen. That really prevents that debate of “is this the right thing to do, should we do this, should we not?”
She Loves Data: What do you have to say about this with regards to India and China?
When you look at larger economies like India and China, you still have these vast wealth disparities. What we’re trying to do in D&I is not to give people opportunities that they don’t deserve because there is often that misperception that D&I is at odds with meritocracy. It’s not.
It’s the recognition that within organisations there are systemic biases that could be through policies, processes or behaviour. When we embed D&I within an organisation, we seek to mitigate those inherent biases which ultimately drives greater meritocracy because then you’re actually considering a wider pool of individuals. You’re looking at who really is the best person for the job rather than oh, I just happen to like them. That’s the message that resonates well in this market. It also helps people to understand that that’s what we’re trying to do with D&I. It’s not to give people opportunities they don’t deserve simply because they don’t tick a box.
She Loves Data: Can you share some of your findings from your research for Examining D&I from An Asian Perspective, which you co-authored?
One of the things we did was we surveyed people. In countries across Asia, we said, “is your company inclusive?” By and large, upwards of 80-90% of people said yes. But when you then drill down, you unpack the language- basically, do you think there are biases that exist in your company that prevent you from being successful? Overwhelmingly, people said yes. Do you think there are policies that prevent you from moving forward? Overwhelmingly, people say yes.
The problem often I think, is the language which I think is perceived to be western- which it can be. I mean D&I, it comes with a lot of I think, western legacy. And when you dismantle those words, and you look at what are the issues we are trying to address in that D&I portfolio, that resonates very strongly here. People understand that. And they do see it and those barriers do exist. So I think that kind of initial defensiveness that say, oh I don’t have that or my organisation doesn’t have that. In fact, it isn’t necessarily accurate.
It’s just a hard conversation to have, it’s a hard thing to talk about, it’s a hard thing to acknowledge. And then once you’ve done that, what are you going to do about that?
She Loves Data: There’s such a lot of honesty about it- and it certainly affects how people show up at work. How do you ensure this is well communicated at all levels?
Guerin: That’s how you talk about it from a strategic perspective but when you talk about it from actually execution, what you have to be very careful. Especially as an individual who is as an influencer at the regional level, you also have to be balanced between giving people that perspective so they know what they are working for or towards.
You give them that messaging, you give them that big picture, that vision and then you let them ultimately come up with, “ok how am I actually going to do this locally?” You can’t just give lip service to localisation.
She Loves Data: Lastly, D&I is no longer a separate business prerogative. What should business leaders of especially multinationals bear in mind when incorporating D&I here?
I think it can often be hard for leaders who may be very personally tied to strategies or programmes that they’ve used in other markets to let that go in the asian market and to trust that leaders know their markets best.
If you really want to tackle the issues in meaningful ways, you have to trust your teams and the people within your organisation decides what’s the best way. Then you use goals, metrics or whatever it is to drive accountability because it doesn’t mean there’s no accountability. You still have to have that but the way you get there may look different than the way you might have gone in expecting.
It’s a work in progress. You kind of have to see what works and what doesn’t.
The one thing that I find so exciting about working in this market is the fact that it changes so rapidly. So you always have to reevaluate, assess and challenge your assumptions about what works and what doesn’t. I would argue that with the market changing and the economic dynamics changing, that’s going to impact your strategy. You have a younger generation coming up that has a very different point of view on how things should be done. So you have to be able to incorporate all those things.
It shouldn’t be the place where you get cut. It should be where you start.
I am so excited about writing this article I don’t even know how to begin. Really, I am a journalist by trade but the last time I wrote for a newspaper was in 2010. Since then I have had many other jobs, but I haven’t felt the pressure of a deadline in a long time.
So, why am I writing this article then?
Well, someone suggested I write about my experience with She Loves Data events. I couldn’t say no. It was an excellent chance to flex my muscles as a writer.
Who was that person?
Let me tell you more…
The first time I saw Jana was at the Data is the new black event, back in March. I have to say my expectations for the event weren’t that great. I had been to many events “for women” where a few successful ladies give pep talks to an audience of mostly expat women who are looking for inspiration, validation and a purpose. What usually happens in these talks is that I leave feeling less inspired and even more frustrated. Why can they do it but I can’t? How can they be so fit and successful? When did they learn how to create their own businesses? How can they run their own business when I can’t even find a job?
Singapore can be very harsh to women, especially when we don’t work. Employers tend to assume we are bored women looking for something to keep us entertained, and not smart women with skills and something to bring to the table. I was asked several times in interviews what my husband does. I was also asked who would take care of my daughter if I started working. I was even told that my salary expectations were too high and that “I didn’t really need the money”.
To be asked these questions and to have these sorts of assumptions made about me is infuriating.
So, what am I still doing in Singapore?
Jana has a lot to do with it. See, I was totally wrong about the content of the event. The all-female panel shared struggles, talked about difficulties, explained how difficult life was at moments. They didn’t rub their success in the audience’s face. These women overcame obstacles, jumped through hoops and over hurdles to get where they are. They all had things in common: being women, incredibly bright, humble and working in the data field, whether by chance or by choice. I still wasn’t sure what data was about, but I was truly inspired and I needed to learn more. I went home and started researching, I read articles and watched videos. I learned about data visualization tools and realised that it all tied in really neatly with my background.
And what background is that?
I am Portuguese and left my home country fresh out of university, in 2004, to pursue my dream of being a journalist. I moved to Spain where I worked for several newspapers and magazines. But the economic crisis hit hard and many papers went bankrupt, including my main clients.
It was time to pack my bags and go back home. Obviously, after making a living from chasing stories, asking uncomfortable questions and writing for hours… after years of arriving home late and eating cold pizza in the morning, how was I going to get my kick of adrenaline? PR and event management didn’t really work so I started teaching.
What? How do you even go from A to B?
With bills to pay and putting to good use something I already knew. In my case, Spanish and English. I taught children, teenagers, adults, corporate, public schools, one-to-one, large groups, you name it. The adrenaline was back! Standing in from of people, teaching them a new skill, listening to their questions, thinking on my feet. When preparing my classes I always tried to add some humour and make things light and fun.
A year went by and I had to decide whether to renew for another year or move again as life was getting quite claustrophobic. In a turn of events that included the start of a new relationship I packed my bags again and went to the UK. I was going to keep on teaching but ended up working in an International School where I quickly went from Receptionist to Deputy Director of Studies. Soon there would be a restructure and I applied for a job in a university. I got it and in under a year I went from Administrative Assistant to Senior Officer. It was a great job: I led a student support team with 7 amazing women and about 8.000 students.
What does this all have to do with data?
Great question, as the politicians would say. At the time I didn’t know, but I was dealing with raw data and trying to make sense of it every single day. I dealt with students, modules, schedules, classes, allocations. It would’ve been a lot easier to do that with some specific software and a data analyst in the team. As a journalist, I had to read reports and write articles. I was the one deciding what information to use and knowing what mattered to my readers. This is also data analysis. Who knew?!
What was my next step?
I kept a close eye on this She Loves Data thing and as soon as they announced another event I signed up. The event was called “Introduction to Data Analytics” and it was only for women. About a hundred of us attended this all-day masterclass on the basics of Data Analysis.
How did it go?
It was awesome! I saw Jana again and confirmed that she is set in helping women find the best in themselves: to develop new skills and to find or confirm their worth. Right at the start, she showed everyone how to connect with each other on LinkedIn. On that day this network became interesting to me.
Jana then introduced Quinn Pham, from Meiro, and Steve Remington from Minerra. They spent hours teaching new terminology, showing software, breaking down things that seemed very complicated. We discussed data visualization and context. This was definitely not an event for techies… I am not one and enjoyed every minute of it. I learned that interpreting data is no different from translating from one language to another. I also learned that pie charts make Steve’s cats sad. Trust me on this one, after hearing Steve talk about pie charts you will not see them in the same way again.
Who else was there?
Asides from the dozens of women from all sorts of backgrounds and industries, many of whom I had the pleasure of talking to during and after the event, the She Loves Data team brought some heavy-weights to share their professional journeys: Katrien Bollen from Google, Melissa Ries from Tibco, Stephanie Chin from HP. Down to earth women who have been where some of us are: suffering from imposter syndrome, feeling like we are not worthy of a seat at the table. Let me tell you that the seat at the table is not Thor’s hammer. You don’t have to be worthy… you just need to want it.
What happened after the workshop?
I approached Jana, Quinn and Steve. I told them how much I had enjoyed the event and how friendly the environment was. I also liked how the trainers were not patronising or condescending.
We shared contacts and I got in touch with Jana and asked if I could join her, Pavel, Quinn, Steve, Nelya, Patricia, Alex and many other volunteers who are making the world a better place by including and welcoming women into a field that traditionally is difficult for us to access.
Well, now I finished writing my first article as Content Producer for SLD. Soon I’ll start co-managing the newsletter with the help and support of some incredibly bright and friendly people. I am proud to say I have found my #DataTribe.