Aine Lenihan’s headshot super-imposed on a blue background speckled with colourful dots
Image: Aine Lenihan

Women in Data Science event will showcase the versatility of a career in data

21 Jun 2021

Communication, engagement and creativity are key to fostering the next generation of data scientists, said event organiser Aine Lenihan.

Aine Lenihan, also known as Data Damsel, will host a panel of world-leading women working in data science as part of a free virtual event she has organised.

The event, which coincides with International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June, aims to support women and girls entering the male-dominated field of data science.

All genders are welcome to attend the event, which is part of the Women in Data Science (WiDS) Worldwide conference series run by Stanford University in more than 150 locations worldwide.

In her role as WiDS’s Irish ambassador, Lenihan said she curated the event’s speakers carefully with the aim of highlighting to attendees the versatility of a data science career.

‘Unfortunately, the people shaping the data that shapes the world are a homogeneous bunch’

“We have something for sports fans and entrepreneurs with the amazing Hélène Guillaume straight from her experience on Dragons’ Den. We will have the head of data science at Starling Bank, Harriet Rees, as well as TEDx speaker and clinical neuroscientist Rebecca Pope. We’ll also have the managing director of Accenture Labs, the renowned Medb Corcoran, and Jennifer Cruise, who has just joined EY as director of analytics.”

Having mentored and lectured in data and database management systems in Trinity College Dublin, as well as working in the industry for over 20 years, Lenihan is passionate about education and increasing the visibility of women role models for the next generation.

“Real-world applications of data science, from combatting cybersecurity to climate change, are shaping today’s world and tomorrow’s. Unfortunately, the people shaping the data that shapes the world are a homogeneous bunch,” she said.

“Somewhere upwards of 78pc to 85pc of data scientists are male. Bringing women into data science is critical for ensuring accurate and unbiased data is available for today’s data-driven businesses.”

Lenihan’s own personal experience as a woman in data science also drives her push for greater gender diversity in her industry. She currently works as a senior analytics architect in IBM’s Watson division and previously work in various software and data roles at AIB.

“A challenge I have found throughout my career has been missing the company of having other women on my team. That’s a really important factor for me,” she said.

“Thankfully, there are now lots of active communities, including WiDS, bridging those gaps.”

So, what advice would Lenihan give to people hoping to pursue a career in data science and the STEM industry in general?

She predicts the sector will be one of the fastest-growing through to the rest of the decade, and it will be subject to continual evolution of trends in artificial intelligence. “AI will also create completely new jobs we haven’t even dreamed up yet,” she said.

“My advice is not gender-specific, but a call to those who do not consider STEM for them because they are creative rather than analytical. To those people, I want them to know that creativity is the secret sauce in STEM. Creativity and STEM are no longer chalk and cheese. There is a place for all skillsets and talents in STEM careers. Being creative rather than analytical does not rule out a career in STEM for anyone. In fact, the magic happens when both work together.”

Lenihan has herself learned to appreciate the broad expanse of data science and the multitude of backgrounds data scientists can have in her role mentoring second and third-level students on IBM’s Pathways to Technology (P-Tech) programme.

“As a mentor with P-Tech, students share their career goals and dreams for the future with me, some of which they think are unrelated to AI. But it really gives me the perfect opportunity for me to demonstrate how AI will touch every industry. So you want to be a footballer? Well, AI is being used to create future superstars by boosting performance, minimising injury, predicting recovery time. Want to work as a makeup artist? Well check out the handheld makeup printer, or the NASA-backed skincare micro-mist.”

The dynamic Data Damsel – who was given the nickname by her former colleagues due to her relatively rare status as a young, female data expert – is confident about the industry’s future.

“There really is so much happening to pique the interest of future data damsels, but communication and engagement is key. There will no doubt come a time I will be more data dame than damsel – but hopefully if I continue my advocacy, there will be many generations of data damsels behind me.”

Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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