Women Leaders in Data Discuss Breaking Bias on International Women’s Day

Women Leaders in Data Discuss Breaking Bias on International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we surveyed some of the most inspiring female executives from across the data industry to share with us their thoughts on this year’s theme - #BreaktheBias.

As an official sponsor of International Women’s Day, Cloudera is excited to celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, and to take up the mantle of this year’s theme #BreakTheBias. 

Even in industries where women are underrepresented, like tech, women have made a lot of progress. Progress over many decades has slowly transformed the workplace into an environment where women’s strengths are recognized and valued.

Though blatant bias has become much less acceptable, more subconscious bias persists. It can emanate from anywhere, baked into the very fabric of society. Even groups that are the target of bias often internalize biased messaging against themselves. 

We surveyed some of the most inspiring female leaders in data from across our global customers to find out how bias has affected their careers and how they believe we can break the cycle. 

It’s not all bad news

Luckily for many of them, they have experienced supportive workplaces throughout their long and successful careers. 

Gisele Ferreira, Data Superintendent at CNP Seguros Brasil recounts, “I started my career in Technology in 2000 in the Air Force. Although the environment was mostly masculine, I didn’t feel affected by any kind of discrimination, because what mattered was the delivery of value.” 

Adriana Flores, Head of Analytics at Peñoles, has experienced something similar throughout her career in the Energy Industry in Mexico. “At Industrias Peñoles I have been fortunate to work with leaders who have believed in me and in my 20-year career, they have given me the opportunity to develop both in projects related to data management and helped me to grow as a person and as a leader.”

The important role of allies in the fight against bias and marginalization cannot be overlooked. Allies can make a huge difference when they advocate on behalf of more junior leaders and help lift up their peers.

Rejecting bias

Part of what is so difficult about facing bias is that it’s often part of the fabric of many institutions, and can be hard to even recognize. Once recognized, it’s important to realize that while none of us is personally responsible for that bias, we all have a personal role to play in overcoming it.

Gisele Ferreira continues, “Throughout my career at other companies, I realized that in many situations I needed to expend more energy in order to achieve my goals, whether in a negotiation round, presenting a project, or arguing for a solution. In many events, prejudice was veiled and difficult to materialize so that it could be fought objectively.”

But the more women exist in spaces where they have been traditionally boxed out, the better the chance we have of beating bias. 

Adriana Lika, Director, Big Data and BI at Telefonica Vivo faced many rounds of naysayers in order to get where she is today. “When I was 35, I received the invitation to compete in a Director position in IT and I confess, I was very afraid. I went through 5 interviews and in each one of them I was asked if I was really prepared to face the pressure involved in the position. Once I had kids, I was also asked if I would be able to balance my personal and professional life. All of that gave me reasons to feel unmotivated to accept the new position. But luckily for me, I grew up in a house of women and we learned from an early age that capabilities do not depend on gender. I won the competition and took the IT Director position.”

Changing the mindset

So much of this battle needs to take place in our own minds. 

For Jinsoo Jang, NW Big Data Engineering Team Leader at LG Uplus, it is about breaking a historical cycle. “What I shouldn’t do as a woman was much more emphasized rather than what I wanted to do. I think bias is a bad habit instilled by older generations who have lived in it. Through the achievements that I have contributed, I have tried to pass on to the next generation a society where the habit does not develop into continued bias.”

Adriana Lika testifies, “It is a matter of mindset changing. Unfortunately, ‘breaking the bias’ is not an immediate process. On the contrary, we need to repeat some ‘mantras’ every day until the message sticks.” 

Elisa Okida adds a foundational point, “People need to believe in themselves, and for this, first, they have to be seen as human beings.”

“Another extremely important factor is that we must have confidence in our potential and in its importance and contribution to our environment,” adds Gisele Ferreira. 

Fernanda Bruno dos Santos, IT Advisor at Dataprev shares with us an important realization. “I realized, over the years, that I would hardly be able to change companies, but I could evolve my way of thinking and acting. Today I understand that it is a great responsibility to be a role model for other women, just as other women have been for me throughout my career.”

Sharing our stories 

One thing that is for certain is that sharing our stories is one of the most important ways to break the bias. By calling it out, we make it easier for others to identify when they are experiencing bias or when they are exhibiting bias themselves.

Adriana Lika discusses one of the most surprisingly impactful moments in her career. “I took part in a session where women executives could share their life stories and discuss challenges they faced to reach their current position. It was such an amazing experience because when we share information, we can all identify with those stories. It promotes camaraderie and incentivizes other women to invest in their careers.”

Adriana Flores emphasizes the importance of sharing our own examples. “I have had the opportunity to attend conferences with women who, with their example, inspire us to promote change. Hearing from more senior executive women about their achievements is hugely motivating.”

Celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day is just one milestone in what should be a year-round practice of cultivating spaces for women in the workplace and spotlighting their achievements. 

The work is on us

The work is on us to not only to beat our own biases but to demonstrate how valuable diversity is to business and to our community. 

For Fernanda Bruno dos Santos, “It means a continuous journey of learning and growing as a woman and a professional.” What she believes is essential is “Making it understood that diversity adds different points of view, brings new perspectives, and strengthens the business.”

Jinsoo Jang adds, “If I had conformed to bias such as ‘women can’t do that!” it would have been impossible for me to lead AI, big data, and digital transformation (DX) for my company.

I think expressions like ‘the first woman’ and ‘the only woman’ are no longer necessary. I truly believe and encourage anyone, regardless of gender, to stand in the position of being the best in the world’ and ‘the only one in the world.’”

As Shirley Collie, Chief Health Analytics Actuary at Discovery Health reminds us, “Whenever you feel the ‘I can’t monster’ entering your thoughts, just beat it back with #YesICan.”

From Cloudera

Check out Cloudera’s Influential Women in Data webinar series, where we speak with female data leaders from different industries about their careers and the opportunities and challenges of being a woman in the field of data.

We are so grateful to our customers for sharing their wisdom, experiences, and voices with us as we celebrate International Women’s Day.

Arielle Diamond
Customer Advocacy Manager, Marketing Communications
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