Women@OCTAVE: OUR HOPE

Welcome back to the four-part series featuring the Women@OCTAVE: Vindya Mahavithana — Analytics Delivery Manager, Hiruni Kandaudaarachchi — Analytics Delivery Manager, Karisma White — Analytics Delivery Associate, Malshini Nissanka — Data Science and Engineering Associate, Akshila Anurangi — Data Science and Engineering Associate, and Poorna Rajapathirane — Visualisation Analyst. Today, they will share their hopes for the future of Data and Advanced Analytics.

Missed Part 3? Read it here!

The United Nations made a call for climate action for women, by women under the theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. What are your insights into this?

Anurangi: This is a very timely theme, as we recognize and celebrate the contributions of women who pioneered the movement to prioritize climate change adaptation, drive environmental conservation, and establish risk reduction policies and programs.

Vindya: Climate change is one of the greatest threats to human existence on this planet. It has become evident that without sustainable solutions to fulfill basic human consumption needs such as water, food, and habitat, our future generations would face severe consequences. As per the United Nations the most vulnerable to climate change are the poor and marginalized, of which a large portion constitutes of women and children. We should focus on providing solutions by mobilizing women to provide solutions for the most critical issues affecting the world. Empowering more women through education and opportunities enable them to actively participate in the process of creating a sustainable future.

Karisma: If we are to progress as a species, we need to find sustainable ways of living. Women are as susceptible to climate change and should be given equal opportunities to play a role in the decision making process related to sustainability, and be empowered to voice out their opinions on climate change. I believe, time and time again, women have proven that they are profound leaders and have the capability to make an impactful change through effective actions. Equality is allowing women a seat at the table based on their capabilities and accomplishments. However, men and women working together as one will be the beginning of the journey to a sustainable future.

What are your thoughts on the IWD 2022 campaign theme ‘#BreakTheBias’?

Hiruni: Gender equality is very important, especially in organizations. It is important that both genders are given equal access to opportunities to combat some of the gender biasness in organizations in the past. The number of women in entry and middle level jobs have increased significantly and many women leaders are now representing organizations, and this brings in another perspective for future decision making. A small change made today leads to a bigger change in the future.

When I was in university, I followed Engineering, and one thing that I noticed was that the percentage of female students was low at around 10% of the batch. I think this is due to biases in society. Women tend to gravitate towards Medicine or Logistics instead of Engineering. Some roles require physical strength in the Engineering and Mechanics fields, and women might feel pressured to not pursue such careers.

Anurangi: Sometimes girls are discouraged to pursue careers in certain fields, due to unconscious bias or our culture etc. So, it is important to encourage young women to pursue careers in the tech industry or any other industry they like without stereotyping specially from a younger age.

Malshini: In contrast, Data Science is more research and theory based, which attracts more women. I believe that there is no bias as such in Data Science, where the male to female ratio is more balanced.

Hiruni: However, there are instances where women might not complete their Data Science or IT Degree programmes as they are still pressured by their peers, families, and society that this may not be the best path for them. They may go in another direction like teaching, which is a female-coded profession. As a solution, both the parents and student can receive resource material through brochures or webinars on the available career paths, and the practical realities of achieving the chosen path. The students will feel more confident if they get the chance to meet and be inspired by women who have gone through the same path before.

Moreover, the general public needs to be educated about Data and Advanced Analytics, and the information one needs to thrive in this space. I commend the events and projects OCTAVE does at a school, university, and community level to this end.

Anurangi: It is more challenging to change the points of view of adults when it comes to biases, so we should empower girls from a young age, and educate them on what it is like to be a Data Scientist. That gives then the confidence to defend their choice with evidence when others tell them, “No!” It is possible, and we should eradicate their self-doubt.

What steps can we take to work towards equal access to opportunities for Women in STEM?

Vindya: We need to ensure that girls from their early years at school are given the opportunity to explore and study subjects such as Mathematics and Statistics.

Hiruni: We need to create platforms where young girls can learn about the career opportunities and paths available in the Data and Advanced Analytics. This gets them interested from a young age and will help to increase the number of women entering this field. It is a vast space that might overwhelm beginners. It is difficult to choose the right path to embark on, and they require the necessary resources and tools depending on their field of interest. If done correctly, it will help to keep them motivated to follow a learning and career plan towards their goal.

In the workplace, initiatives should be taken to refine the work processes related to Women in STEM. With tight deadlines to deliver many projects, it is difficult for women to balance family commitments as they climb the corporate ladder. By introducing flexible work hours, women will be incentivized to continue working.

Empowering women to take up leadership positions and initiating necessary policies at a company level will help to combat the gender gap in Senior Management. This will provide a different point of view when making decisions at a strategic level. An easy mechanism to drive this would be workshops that target required leadership skills among women employees. In the long run, this culture of job security and momentum will encourage young girls to enter this fields as well.

What would you like to achieve in your career?

The Women@OCTAVE collectively agree: To always have a clear conscience, to never compromise our integrity and morals, and to make a positive impact on the planet.

Thank you for joining us in this series. We hope that the stories of the Women@OCTAVE will inspire and guide you in your own journey. See you next year!

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OCTAVE - John Keells Group

OCTAVE - John Keells Group

OCTAVE, the John Keells Group Centre of Excellence for Data and Advanced Analytics, is the cornerstone of the Group’s data-driven decision making.