This post was originally published on the DataWorks Summit Blog

I had the honor and pleasure to moderate the panel for the “Women in Big Data Lunch” on April 18, duringDataworks Summit in Berlin.

Our distinctive panelists included:

  • Mandy Chessell – Distinguished Engineer, IBM
  • Ellen Koenig – Data Scientist, formerly of Europace AG
  • Tina Rosario – Chief Data Officer, SAP – Head of Women in Big Data EMEA
  • Nicolette Bullivant – Head of Data Engineering, Santander
  • Maria Ryzhkova – Big Data Platform lead, MSD (Merck)

First, thanks to the panelists for such an inspiring and fun conversation. Second, thanks to the 50+ women and men who attended, supported and actively participated in our luncheon.  The variety of women on the panel from different industries, countries and job titles helped to bring different views and perspectives to the conversation.

The theme for the panel was based on topics we heard from previous attendees at our lunches on what is important to them.  We focused on the following:

–   What is the positive impact that multidisciplinary skills, collaboration and big data play in the role of women in the workforce.

–  Do these skills help women make difference at work in order to achieve success.

Our discussion started with describing an example of how the panelists used these skill sets to their advantage to make a difference in their organization.  Many felt, although they don’t consider being a woman should make a difference in what they did, their leadership styles and skills around collaboration, communication and teamwork helped them to be successful in their roles at work. It helped them gain commitment by listening to others, achieving a collective collaborative vision and just general concern for others on the team.

Another topic we discussed involved if the women experienced a time where they didn’t get credit for their work and how they handled this situation. Maria shared that she personally feels flattered if someone uses her slides in a presentation. Her management always gives her team credit for their great work and will take the blame if things didn’t work out.  Mandy had a different experience and said you’ve got to start somewhere for getting credit for your work and used the analogy of a drop of water that becomes a puddle and eventually becomes a lake.

A top of mind matter we discussed was how do you drive change when you are working with all these different divisions and teams? Niki told the audience she manages a team of 60 engineers in her work. She thinks of herself as an engineer first.  She also lives with her 4 sons and husband, and it is totally the norm for her to be around men all the time. She feels that her experience at home has made it much easier and has helped her be successful as one of few females in her organization.

Questions from the Audience

When we opened it up for questions from the audience, we had several questions from the millennial women in the room. For a few, this was the first time at a technology conference as well at as being around so many women in technology at the same time at this lunch. One woman felt “angry” at the 25:1 ratio of men to women. She asked the panelists for their advice on what to do.  Each panelist provided good insight which included: “Get involved, participate in panels, speak at sessions, make a difference, be more proactive and don’t be a victim.”

This was followed by each panelist providing an examples of how they get involved. Ellen speaks at meetups to support Women Who Code.  Tina runs the Women in Big Data Forum in EMEA and mentioned the importance of being involved to pave the way for her daughter. Niki gets involved for herself by speaking at conferences and panels like this one. She enjoys her work, feels successful in her role and wants to share by example. She doesn’t think of herself as a woman but an engineer. Maria had a wonderful “can-do” attitude and just goes in and “does it” because of her role, not because of being a woman.

We all confirmed that the importance of this event helps to build a community for Women in Big Data. No one is alone. Although it is unfortunate that we need events like this to drive awareness, we were glad to participate and get involved. I heard from the audience that they could identify with the women on the panel, and they felt inspired to go out and do a “kick butt”job. It doesn’t have to be a male oriented industry.

In summary, each panelist provided excellent examples from their own experiences which led to the same conclusion – empower yourself, get a seat at the table, and don’t let anyone get to your confidence! Last year, after the Women in Big Data breakfast in Munich, the Women in Big Data Forum was able to start a chapter in Munich.   Rumor has it that several women searched for Tina afterwards and showed her they were interested in starting a group in Berlin. This is how progress is made – step by step!

Our next Women in Big Data event will be at DataWorks Summit San Jose. Please join us if you can!

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