Felicia Ziparo leads the data science team at Methods Analytics, helping organisations leverage the power of data science and AI. She reflects on her career in data science and gives some advice to other women who may be at an earlier stage in their careers.
The challenge of getting more women into tech leadership roles has been much discussed of late, with the implications of executive homogeneity being more widely understood, both in terms of the ability of organisations to compete in a market place driven by increasingly diverse customers, but also the development of technology products and platforms which will be limited by a lack of diverse input into the process.
The finalists of the Team Leader of the Year category at this years Women in Tech Excellence awards have all demonstrated how their leadership has inspired teams, and enabled and empowered them to overcome the obstacles which are inevitable in technology and infrastructure projects and programmes. Felicia Ziparo, Lead Data Scientist at Methods Analytics and a Team Leader of the Year finalist explains why she supports the campaign to amplify the voices of women working in technology, and shares her advice for success.
Why do you support Computing's Women in Tech Excellence Campaign?
The challenge of increasing diversity in IT is now a key agenda across the UK. Although we are far from where we want to be, I believe the human elements of recognising and promoting talented women in the industry, sharing success stories and building a community that encourages positive change, play a fundamental role in moving us forward towards a solution.
How did you get into IT industry?
After I completed my university studies in astrophysics, I'd been using programming languages to analyse data produced by different telescopes across the world. When I decided to leave Academia, data science was the most logical step to use my skills in a more applied field. It fascinated me how my skills could be transferred from an abstract subject like astrophysics to solve day-to-day problems in the public sector.
What you think is the main reason why the IT industry is mainly male, especially in technical roles and senior positions?
I believe the disparity starts mostly at early-stage education, through to university, and then to picking a career, which impacts the pipeline of women entering the industry. There is often a deficiency of female role models who can be the evidence that it is possible to achieve certain goals and inspire more women to join the tech industry. Women have also a tendency not to apply for roles unless they feel fully qualified, whereas men generally apply even if they don't have all the skills on the job description, so I think taking more leaps of faith and be mindful of the language used in the job descriptions will also drive change.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
As daunting as it seems, things can change.
When I joined Methods Analytics, I was asked to build a data science function setting standards and best practices in the ways of working. At first, I thought it was impossible, and wanted to remain in my comfort zone. I saw no reason why people should listen to a newcomer and change their habits. But I decided to shift my perspective and took on the challenge. I started small, trying to understand the reasons behind people's ways of working and built up from there. Eventually, I could see a data science team forming, while integrating best practices on their daily work.
What are the three top tips for women looking to start a career in IT? / What advice would you give to young women aspiring to take on leadership roles?
First, do not be afraid to ask questions and express your opinion. Often facts are exposed from a specific point of view, maybe affected by legacy processes or lack of diversity. A fresh perspective can help seeing things in a different way and finding creative solutions to challenging problems.
Secondly, learn from your mistakes. If you don't try, you don't know whether it was an experience worth doing and you might regret not going for it. Failing is part of the learning process and can be a powerful tool to improve your career.
Finally, create your own network. Building strong relationships helps increase your visibility and raise your profile as a potential leader. Invest time in engaging with a wide range of people in your environment and allow people to get to know you. It also makes the journey much more enjoyable.