Written by: Soo Sien Tay, She Loves Data Writer
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.
Our world is a completely data and tech-driven world. Global experts say the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here – a complete technological revolution that will influence and impact all aspects of our societies and communities. Women need to be ready and start investing in the technological skills they need for the future – today.
There are women throughout Asia who are hungry to have their voices on tech and data heard. But many of them feel nervous or hesitant to jump ‘all in’ and pursue a career in the industry. Many women hide their passions and skills for analytics, data science and data visualization, without the support necessary to flourish and fully realize their career aspirations.
Wire19 recently interviewed Jana Marle-Zizkova, Co-founder and MD of She Loves Data, to learn how her organization is getting more women interested in data, and inspiring them to pursue careers in data and tech.
1. To begin with, give us a brief about She Loves Data. Where did this all started and how the idea popped up in your mind?
The tech and data industry is one I have personally been involved with for more than 20+ years – and over those two decades, as the popularity of the industry has grown, so too has my revelation that not enough women are seated at the ‘tech’ table. In 2016, I experienced a defining career moment. We were running a data hackathon event – and again, had an almost all-male turnout. I turned around to see Czechitas, a company setting up courses in Europe for women to learn about data and tech and that was a lightbulb moment.
We should start something similar in Singapore. When we posted information about our first data workshop for women in Singapore – the results completely blew us away. Within a few days, we had almost 500 ladies registered. And the response wasn’t a one-off. The situation was the same wherever we took the idea – Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and beyond.
Two years on, and our global not-for-profit organization She Loves Data has grown into an online community of more than 5,000 women located not only in Asia, but in many other parts of the world – and it’s only the beginning.
2. You strongly debate the role of women in technology. Please elaborate in context of data, technology and analytics.
Our world is a completely data and tech-driven world. Global experts say the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here – a complete technological revolution that will influence and impact all aspects of our societies and communities. As women, we need to be ready and start investing in the technological skills we need for the future – today. Data is everywhere – not just in the tech industry – and we can maximize it for our advantage. There are women throughout Asia who are hungry to have their voices on tech and data heard.
I also know that many of us may feel nervous or hesitant to jump ‘all in’ and pursue a career in the industry. Many women hide their passions and skills for analytics, data science and data visualization, without the support necessary to flourish and fully realize their career aspirations. Now, more than ever before, I am convinced we need more women in tech and data in Asia – industries that can be, for the most part, dominated by males worldwide.
Women have skills and abilities to bring to the industry that don’t currently exist. Diversity is important to excel and drive better results. In fact, data and digital literacy are one of the foremost skills we as women need in our ever-growing, globalized world.
3. How do you help women who want to make it big in data analytics and learn its specifics? Do you have any workshops or similar training sessions?
There is a shortage of data analytics and data scientists and by building up the community, we hope to help bridge this shortage by getting more women interested in data. She Loves Data is all about empowering women to take their place at the tech table. Our organization inspires women to pursue careers in data & tech, and helps them be bold in their pursuit of a new career.
We provide education and events across Australia and Asia for women to get their bearing, learn the foundations of data analytics & business intelligence and find their #DataTribe. The one-day free workshops we started with were incredibly popular, and we soon realized we had so many women from so many different walks of life joining. It gave me the revelation that our movement was not only about data-related knowledge, it was also about breaking industry-related barriers that different cultures placed on women. We worked hard to inspire all women, by introducing teaching to help women succeed in business, and as people.
Women should be empowered to pursue their dreams and get the careers they want. Our workshops now start to help women step out of defined boundaries, develop a growth mindset, define their personal brands and build resilience. These skills are applicable in all careers. So, when you invest in a global community of women in tech by joining She Loves Data and attending our events, you’re also investing in yourself.
4. Do you have branches in any other countries too?
She Loves Data is a regional movement covering Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Jakarta and Hong Kong. In 2019, we will be expanding into Malaysia and the Philippines. We plan to start activities outside of Asia in 6-9 months.
5. How is the data and analytics industry evolving and why it’s good for women to enter into this field?
By all accounts, the international landscape has become a completely data and tech-driven world. There will be unprecedented technological breakthroughs in the very near future that all of us (both male and female) need to be equipped to manage and support.
Global research shows that teams with more diversity perform better. We know that males and females bring different ideas, backgrounds, perspectives, learnings, skills and innovation to the table – which can broaden horizons, expand effectiveness and improve our industries and societies.
A future guided by tech and data is inevitable. We need men and women to steer the world forward and continue to create, innovate and establish. But in order to achieve that, we need to start supporting women to develop tech and data skills – in a variety of different ways from workplace culture to accessibility to education, growing tech communities, ensuring collaboration, developing inclusivity and helping more women access the opportunity to play a key role in our global future.
6. You also conduct several women-oriented events based on the theme of data. Please let us know about few of those upcoming events.
All our upcoming events across Asia and Australia are posted online at shelovesdata.com, and our Facebook page – facebook.com/shelovesdata. We partner with many organizations globally to deliver a variety of tech and data workshops, bootcamps, business workshops and more. Check our pages online for the latest events coming in 2019! As we speak we are working on plans for exciting 2019.
7. What do you think Is the importance of data in digital marketing. Elaborate in context of your Asia’s First & Only Digital Bootcamp in Malaysia.
The two-day Bootcamp empowered more than 40 female entrepreneurs in Malaysia, focusing on upskilling attendees on critical aspects of business success: good branding and digital marketing. She Loves Data was proud to be one of three tech partners supporting the event. I presented a session on the importance of data and marketing at the Bootcamp.
The event was organized by FEM (Female Entrepreneurs Movement) – we were thrilled to join forces, supporting women in the region to boost or change their careers. My session was focused on embracing data in marketing – helping female entrepreneurs build and harness a single-customer-view in business.
Regarding data in digital marketing – many professionals in marketing have been trained in traditional marketing. Our global future will ensure that data is not just an important factor in digital marketing – but in fact it will be the centerpiece.
Data is the ‘new black’ in business. Businesses need to harness data to maximize their digital marketing activities for real success. Consumers expect organizations to speak to them in a targeted way – and businesses need to interpret their data correctly in order to enhance their decision making and relationships with consumers.
8. Why did you chose to be a non-profit organization?
I started She Loves Data to help women worldwide, with the firm belief that more women are needed across the tech and data industries globally. Our non-profit gives women access to the skills, support and opportunities necessary for great careers in tech and data.
We are proud to be an international not-for-profit – She Loves Data is all about empowering women to take their place at the tech table. She Loves Data is proudly supported by tech startup Meiro. Meiro is a Customer Data Platform, available globally, working to revolutionize how companies manage and activate one of their most valuable assets: first-party data.
9. Any plans for expansion in the upcoming year?
Yes, She Loves Data will be expanding to Malaysia and the Philippines in 2019 – get ready, girls!
Suggested reading: “By 2022, carriers that do not transform will be stuck with an outdated operating model and legacy mindset.”— Philippe Millet, i3forum
10. Please share a message for the female readers who aspire to make it big in the big data world out there.
Getting involved with She Loves Data is more than signing up for the latest business advice for data and tech – it’s about joining a #DataTribe, a community of other like-minded women to help grow and advance your interest and careers in the tech and data industry.
Joining the She Loves Data #datatribe is about joining an international community – a community that is inclusive, supportive, strong, non-judgmental and provides a space for women to truly invest in, and develop, their gifts and skills in tech and data. Together, we can break barriers and build relationships and friendships to last a lifetime.
My message for female readers is to embrace the unknown! Always be curious to learn and open yourself to learn new things in the tech and data industries. If you aspire to make it big in the big data world, look for mentors and ask people for help – don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice – women who have built careers in this industry are eager to share their knowledge and give back. Remember, it is never too late to learn!
Networking events that are organised exclusively for women in the technology industry are on the rise, dispelling the prevailing view that women are unempowered in this male-dominated industry.
For Ms Jana Marle-Zizkova, the co-founder of non-profit group She Loves Data, such events go beyond swopping business cards and names.
As a facilitator for Ladies Night at Kilo, a regular networking event organised by digital retraining firm General Assembly Singapore and nightclub Kilo Lounge, Mrs Marle-Zizkova observed that many attendees were in the midst of switching industries. Touching base with other women in similar situations allows them to “support each other, create mentoring circles and attend professional events together”, she said.
At the ladies’ night event she facilitated last November, Mrs Marle-Zizkova met about 10 to 15 women who later took part in She Loves Data workshops and meet-ups.
Apart from its regular ladies’ night events, General Assembly Singapore also hosted a breakfast event commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8, in partnership with SGInnovate and artificial intelligence firm Appier. On the agenda was a discussion on how companies could nurture a culture of inclusivity at the workplace.
Not only do women-only networking events provide a launch pad for women venturing into tech-related industries, they may also give a lift to those who are building their own tech start-ups.
To this end, the Singapore chapter of global non-profit group Girls in Tech launched a boot camp in April. Designed for women looking to grow their own start-ups, the boot camp focused on developing business skills such as crafting pitches and winning over angel investors.
Ms Antoinette Patterson, founder of counselling app Safe Space, was one of 30 participants at the boot camp. With a background in digital advertising, she is no stranger to the ad tech start-up scene.
Joining the boot camp helped her take her app past the prototype stage. The camp also gave her an insight into the business models that worked best for her app, as well as the revenue streams she could tap.
On the need for women-only networking events, Ms Patterson said: “At mixed-gender networking events, some women may feel insecure about their credentials compared with their male counterparts, even if they are highly qualified.”
This sense of belonging – or lack of – was also the driving force behind Ms Nurul Jihadah Hussain’s decision to start Singapore’s first women-only hackathon last year with her team at volunteer-run organisation The Codette Project.
“Traditionally, during a hackathon, you could be drinking beer at 2am while hacking your idea. It’s not welcoming for people of different age groups and with families,” she said.
The project’s youngest participant last year was just nine years old and its oldest was 45.
The second edition of the hackathon will take place this weekend during family-friendly hours, with the event ending no later than 9pm. A designated area will be set aside for child-minding, although participants of the hackathon have yet to request for this service.
Ms Salina Ibrahim, a product lead in the mobile communications and technology industry, clocks two to three hours every week volunteering at The Codette Project. “Women have been significantly under-represented in the tech industry. Men, on the other hand, benefit from the legacy of the ‘boys’ club,” she said.
Women-only groups “help empower women to get to a level playing ground”, given how the lack of women in most boardrooms means they have to always work harder to prove themselves or get themselves heard, she added.