Women in Data Science: Interview with Maria Sueiro

Careers involving data expertise are soaring and skills are in high demand. Data Scientist, Maria Sueiro is responsible for extracting meaning from customer and product data to provide actionable insights to all parts for the company.

Finishing her Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) in Theoretical Particle Physics and Cosmology at King’s College London, Maria has 3 years’ experience working with real-world data and shares her insight on what it’s like working in the industry.

  1. What interested you to a career in data science?

Once I decided not to stay in academia after my PhD, a job in data analysis and data science was the ideal way to use my natural affinity for maths, my knowledge of statistical methods and analytical skills in “the real world.”

It also means that I can work in a wide variety of industries and it’s a job that requires/allows for a lot of learning of new methods, increasing my skillset, and trying new things, which is something I enjoy. Since we are currently in a time where most companies are realising the power that can be derived from using their data in clever ways, data scientist positions tend to be reasonably well-paid.

  1. What do you love most about being a data scientist?

I have always enjoyed solving maths problems and as a data scientist I can use abstract mathematical methods and computational techniques to solve real-world problems.

Data science can be used in a wide scope of projects and so I am frequently working on very different things ranging from data exploration to uncover trends and patterns, to writing machine learning algorithms.

3.In 2018 it was reported that females only fill about 15% of data scientist roles. Do you feel efforts to improve female representation in this industry are starting to build momentum?

In my experience, people who are already in the data science field and particularly those responsible for hiring new people are in their majority aware of bias and gender representation issues and want to do what they can to change this.

So yes, I suppose there is at least an awareness of the issue that perhaps a few years ago was still missing.

  1. The proportion of young women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012. What advice would you give to young women who may be put off studying these subjects?

I think it’s important to dispel the nonsense belief that maths, physics, and engineering are more appropriate for men, while subjects in the arts and humanities are more female-appropriate. It’s also important to cultivate and encourage puzzle-solving and logical reasoning in children of all genders equally (likewise for creativity and empathy). For example, there’s no need for gendered aisles in toy shops, with puzzles, Lego etc in the “boy aisle” and dolls or toy kitchens in the “girl aisle”.

  1. What do you think can be done to help balance the huge gender gap in the engineering industry?

I think the main issue is that not enough women go on to study maths, physics, or engineering at a high level (master’s and PhD) and so there aren’t enough women applicants for jobs in these fields.

  1. In 2018, almost 29% of FTSE 100 board positions were held by women. Do you feel enough progress has been made by businesses in getting more women to the top?

I believe things are moving in the right direction. However, there are still barriers that might keep women from “rising to the top”.

For example, many companies only do the bare minimum when it comes to parental leave, and do not offer any working flexibility to parents. There is also the issue of the government not doing enough to help with subsidised childcare. This means that people who want to have children sometimes need to choose between their career and their family and it’s usually women who have to make that choice.

There are also many issues like the fact that qualities that would make a man seem decisive and strong, can in some cases make a woman un-likeable, with likeability being a more significant factor in a woman’s career progression compared to a man’s.

This is the same for children: a girl would be called bossy, which has negative connotations, while a boy would be called confident or a natural-born leader for the same behaviour.

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