Courage and Curiosity: Valuable Attributes for Women in Big Data

Courage and Curiosity: Valuable Attributes for Women in Big Data

Last week we held our third Women In Data Webinar, and what a session it was! We were honored to welcome Justyna Lebedyk, Senior Product Owner Big Data, Commerzbank AG, who posed the question “Does diversity win?” 

I had the pleasure of chatting with Justyna about the key themes from her talk and what advice she would give to others looking to pursue a career in data. 

How did your tech career start?

I was 19 when I moved from Poland to Germany. In Poland there are many more women in finance and tech than men, but I found the reverse to be true in Germany. I was studying Business Administration and during my studies on this topic I was introduced to coding and I fell in love with it. I was able to use code to create and I found that electrifying. So, after my master degree, I started courses in Business Informatics.

Suddenly my environment changed completely. I was at the same university whereas I had been studying with men and women, now there were only men on my course. I was deeply confused about how one change could cause such a dramatic change in the mix of my fellow students.

I thought about the reasons why there were no other women in that course for years afterwards. And I still do. I think young women don´t know that coding or STEM is something for girls too. But women invented coding! Ada Lovelace was the world’s first programmer in the 19th century; the queen of code if you will. Where other people saw numbers, Ada had a different point of view and a fresh perspective that led to the creation of the world’s first program. Diversity of thought created a breakthrough on which today’s digital economies have been built.

What are the risks of poor diversity?

If we don’t create room for different perspectives and voices then we run out of fresh ideas. As a result businesses will be out of tune with their customers’ needs. I’ll give you an example that I talked about in the webinar. I recently bought a new car. I love my car because it is bigger than my last one and so I feel safer in it.

However, there are small things that niggle me. For example, I am quite slim so my elbow doesn’t quite reach the arm rest or often the car alerts me that I need to press the brake – while I am doing exactly that! Why, because the trigger has been set to a different weight. It was designed by a man, for a man. My experience as a woman driving that car is poorer for a lack of diversity in the testing process. 

I also think a lack of diversity can impact us in subtle ways. Many years ago a boss left the team I was working in. A colleague asked me if I would apply for the role and my immediate response was ‘no way, I couldn’t manage the team in the same way.’  I was missing the point, that difference is good! As a woman, I could lead the team in a different way and could have brought a fresh dimension to that leadership position. However, when you don’t see other women in leadership positions, then you won´t experience that a different way of leadership can also bring good results. And that has a subconscious impact on our confidence. 

How did that experience change your approach to opportunities?

The biggest lesson I learnt, with the benefit of hindsight, is that different is not bad. So fast forward to some years later and I joined a new team, Big Data. Everything is new to me and I went for a coffee with my boss and he asked me directly if I wanted to be a product owner. My answer? Well yes, I’ve done it before but not in this area so I’m not sure. Undeterred he told me that he saw something in me and he trusted that I would excel in such a role.

Whilst my inner voice was screaming ‘nooooooooooooooo,’ I was emboldened by his support and so my external voice said: “Yes challenge accepted.” My advice is to seize the day, if you’re given an opportunity take it. 

What attributes do you need to be successful in the world of data?

In my experience there are three things needed to be successful. The first is a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to be continually learning. This is not a sector that stands still and it’s important to remain curious. Secondly, courage. It’s not always easy to navigate a career in a male dominated environment, but have courage to speak up – your ideas and viewpoints matter. And lastly, share your successes with your friends and family. They will provide you with an invaluable support system that will lift you up and remind you of your achievements when times are hard. 

What can we all do to drive the diversity agenda forward?

It’s important that we start with ourselves, to include and invite diversity to our lives; to be open to learning from what makes us different. I, for example, do not talk like you, therefore I probably don’t think like you. That’s often a fact that is avoided or not referenced, whereas actually we need to embrace that difference because by doing so we make our products and services better, more meaningful and more accessible.  Let’s face facts, conformity does not lead to a bright, creative and exciting world in which to live. By spending time with people who are different to ourselves, our perspective becomes one of inclusivity. 

Ask yourself, do you help people? Do you encourage them? Do you ensure that all voices are being heard in a meeting? Start with yourself. You are different and that makes you unique. Accept that and be proud of who you are.

Learn more about Cloudera Diversity, Equality & Inclusion community by visiting

Sruthi Mohan
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