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Three Challenges the World’s Top Women in Data are Facing Today

Six of the women in our 2020 Global Top 100 Innovators in Data and Analytics list discuss the top challenges they’re facing in the age of COVID-19

It would have been easy to dedicate this virtual roundtable with six of the amazing women on our 2020 Global Top 100 Innovators in Data and Analytics list to the topic of diversity.

Of course, there is a great deal left to be done to promote gender equality in the industry. But given the unprecedented times we’re living in, we decided to focus on how they are rising to meet the challenges of the day, instead.

So, we invited Women in Data UK Chair Payal Jain to be our Co-Host as we explored the challenges COVID-19 is creating for our guests’ data and analytics strategies.

“Data has become front and center,” Jain observed. ”So, it’s really fascinating [to imagine] how we’ll come out the other side of this [and] start rectifying some of the investment in data that we should have had in the past.”

Providing Key Insights Amid Increased Demand

A key theme across all our global ‘top 100’ roundtables in 2020 has been how demand for data-driven insights is soaring.

As Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles, Bitly CDO and GM of BitlyIQ, noted, this is creating problems for companies that haven’t historically invested in their data infrastructures.

“Had we not made the right sound investments several years back – in the right cloud infrastructure and data security and data at scale – it would not have [been] possible [to leverage] the opportunities we’ve had during the pandemic,” she said.

AXA PP Healthcare CDAO Nirali Patel agreed that demand for data has shot up this year. But she stressed that this has had implications for company data literacy, as well as infrastructure.

“Everyone wants that self-serve dashboard that tells them what actions they have to take,” she said. “But actually, have you got the right foundations and capabilities across the business to interpret the data?”

Seizing the Opportunity to Accelerate Data Initiatives

Katia Walsh, Chief Strategy and AI Officer at Levi Strauss & Co, argued that the greatest challenge facing data leaders today is working out how to use this surge in data demand to accelerate key initiatives.

“It’s made what was a ‘nice to have’ a ‘must’,” she quipped. “It has enabled us to connect more deeply with our consumers, with our employees, with our shareholders – even if we have to be remote.”

“It actually accentuates this magic circle that we all know about,” she continued. “Digital makes data big. Big data makes artificial intelligence possible. And artificial intelligence makes digital smart. So, we are all really fueling this flywheel of momentum and making it go faster.”

Maritza Curry, Head of Data at RCS, said the events of 2020 have transformed her team’s capabilities. The pandemic has helped them focus on the financial services company’s most pressing business problems.

However, she predicted that keeping one eye on the ‘big picture’ will be a key challenge for data leaders as they navigate the “daily whirlwind” COVID-19 throws at them.

“The challenge I think is going to be, 'How can we continue to build on that momentum?'” she said. “In parallel with the very day-to-day focus at the moment, in terms of COVID-19 decision support, we also have to think about the long-term.”

Answering Data Ethics and Privacy Questions

All our guests agreed that cross-functional collaboration and data sharing across business units are key capabilities in any data-driven organization.

Minna Karha, Data and Analytics Lead at Finnair, explained: “In an AI-driven organization, the daily operations are so connected that we need to work together and exchange data, both with our internal teams and with external partners.”

However, Mastercard CDO JoAnn Stonier argued that the amount of remote data sharing that’s necessary in the age of COVID-19 is highlighting the need for better ways to share data ethically and responsibly.

“Most of our organizations know how to do that one-on-one,” she said. “But when you have multiple partners wanting to come together to solve problems like COVID-19, climate change and others, we have yet to really crack the code.”

“On the topic of artificial intelligence,” she added. “I think this time has shown us that there is bias in data and bias in information processes.”

She concluded: “Data professionals and experts really need to pay attention to all of those issues if we’re going to create a future that we’re going to be proud of.”

Key Takeaways

  • Increased demand is putting data infrastructures under strain. Companies that have invested in their ‘data foundations’ historically are best placed to handle today’s increased data volumes
  • Keep one eye on the ‘big picture’. Many data leaders have accelerated key initiatives in response to COVID-19. But using this momentum to drive long-term strategies remains a challenge
  • Unanswered ethical questions are becoming more urgent. With data and analytics usage soaring, enterprises can’t afford to ignore issues around data ethics and privacy any longer