2 Years On — Founding HER+Data

2 Years On — Founding HER+DataKaren ChurchBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingFeb 21In February 2017 I founded HER+Data — a community for women or people who identify as female who work with and love data.

My goal was to bring together women who work with data or who would like work with data — to support and promote one another, to share experiences and knowledge, and to talk data.

I was keen to create a space where women in analytics, data science and machine learning could establish truly meaningful connections and inspire one another.

The community has grown to > 600 registered members in Dublin with a thriving sister chapter in Manchester organized by the wonderful Rachael Ainsworth.

We’ve hosted 13 fantastic events in partnership with a range of wonderful companies across Dublin and had talks from 36 inspiring women!Our inspiring HER+Data Speakers to date — Note the title(s) above may not represent the current role/company for some of the speakers.

I’ve been asked a number of times why I created the community in the first place and what advice I have for other community-builders, in particular around how they can attract more female attendees and speakers to their events.

Here are some of my personal reflections on the journey so far!#1 Start with a missionAfter moving back to Ireland after 8 years living away I noticed a gap in the tech scene in Dublin.

While there were lots of fantastic data related meetups, few focused on women and those that did focus on women were centred around coding.

That’s were the initial idea for HER+Data came from.

I wanted to create a community focused on sharing experiences and learnings with one another.

Throughout my career I’ve consistently made time to connect with, learn from and share experiences with others and I’ve always been amazed by the power of just hearing how other people approach problems and navigate challenges.

I also wanted to create a community that could help address some of the diversity challenges the data science industry faces.

As a technical leader and builder of data teams, I care deeply about diversity.

Research has shown time and time again that diverse teams are more innovative, they are smarter and they ultimately lead to better performance.

Yet it’s estimated that just 15%-25% of data scientists are women!Analytics, Data Science and Machine Learning are being used to fuel strategic business decisions, drive actions and build innovative products and solutions across a variety of domains.

Yet in the vast majority of cases, women aren’t playing a significant role.

I’d like to help change that.

So my goal was to create a community where women working in data could really connect and learn from each other; a community that truly supported and elevated women in analytics & data science; and a community that would hopefully help encourage more women to pursue a data-related career.

Note that while the core aim of HER+Data is to elevate women in data science and analytics, we are inclusive to anyone who supports our cause regardless of gender or technical background.

#2 Choose an inclusive nameWhen I first created the HER+Data community, I called it XX+Data where ‘XX’ was a biological reference.

I chose that name because it was short and snappy and I thought it had a clever ring to it.

I didn’t realise that I had inadvertently chosen a name that wasn’t fully inclusive of all women.

Thanks to feedback from the community and prospective members, I realised that XX+Data was a trans exclusionary name and was hurtful to our trans allies.

While our core mission focused on women, I wanted it to be inclusive of all women and so we made the decision to rename the community to HER+Data.

If you’re considering setting up a local community or meetup and you’re thinking “what’s in a name?”, the answer is a lot.

Names matter and if your core aim is to create an inclusive space, having a name that’s inclusive and representative of your cause is important.

#3 Set the tone & make folks comfortableWhen I established HER+Data I promised great content, laughter and a room full of data women from various backgrounds.

I wanted our events to be fun, informal, welcoming and engaging.

I wanted people to really look forward to these events and I wanted them to come back.

Mostly I wanted attendees to feel comfortable.

We decided to initially focus on short talks by a diverse set of speakers who shared their inspiring career stories.

I was keen to highlight that there are multiple, often non-linear paths into data-related careers.

Our first event in May 2017 was filled with excitement, laughter and conversation.

Our mix of speakers — with some folks early on in their careers and other more tenured folks — seemed to really resonate, and the diverse stories our speakers shared seemed to really hit a nerve with our community.

At that first event and at every event since, there are a few things I try to do to help set the tone and create a comfortable environment for everyone.

I welcome folks.

I introduce myself.

I take a genuine interest in others.

We tend to have drinks and snacks available so like any good host, pointing people in the right direction and encouraging folks to help themselves is a good starting point!I repeat the core mission and history of the community so that attendees know what we’re trying to do.

As well as having a strong mission, we have a code of conduct to help clarify what’s expected of community members.

There are lots of fantastic codes of conduct available online.

We use one that was adapted from the Plone Foundation and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.

0 Unported license.

This again can help set the tone for your event and community.

I remind attendees that if they have suggestions; would like to contribute, host or help in any way; or if want to speak at future meetup to reach out or come talk to us after the event.

Finally, I try to be myself and I try to demonstrate my passion for the community.

If your heart isn’t in it, people can tell.

#4 Remember, it takes an armyTwo things happened at the first HER+Data event, both equally epic!(1) Rachael Ainsworth — at the time a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin— attended our kick-off event.

She enjoyed the event so much that she was keen to get involved.

The catch was she moving to Manchester in a matter of weeks to pursue a position as a Research Associate in Radio Astronomy at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics! Rachael and I decided to meet over coffee to chat things through.

By the end of that coffee, Rachael had put herself forward to lead and organize a sister HER+Data Chapter in Manchester.

Rachael kicked off the 1st HER+Data MCR event in Sep 2017 in Manchester Science Park.

15 meetups and almost 600 members later, the Manchester chapter continues to go from strength to strength.

All I can say is thank you Rachael — you are awesome!HER+Data MCR 1 Year Anniversary Event in Sep 2018 — hosted @intechnica — Rachael invited me to give a talk at the 1 year anniversary event 🙂 Witnessing what she’s has built in Manchester and the impact she’s had on others was really inspiring!(2) Martina Naughton — Senior Data Scientist and Team Lead in Zalando — kindly agreed to give one of the talks at our kick-off HER+Data event and soon after agreed to co-lead and co-organize the HER+Data Dublin community with me!We host events consistently — so every 1 or 2 months — and typically have 3 new speakers at every meetup.

Organising and coordinating these events takes time and effort: finding a venue, sponsors and new speakers, spreading the word about the events and growing the community.

Doing all of this by myself would be super difficult plus we’d run the risk of a lack of diverse perspectives and skills in making the community and our events successful.

I’m very lucky to have someone like Martina to partner with on HER+Data.

Huge thank you Martina — you are amazing!Aside from wonderful co-organizers, we have also had huge support from companies including Intercom, Zalando, Groupon, Accenture, Facebook, Google, Statestreet, Microsoft and Sky Ireland who have hosted and sponsored our events.

Intercom and Zalando have in fact hosted multiple events!.Without companies like these, communities like HER+Data wouldn’t be possible so a big thanks to our allies.

#5 Finding speakers is challenging36 amazing female speakers later and I wish I could say it get’s easier but overall I think finding great speakers is one of the most challenging parts of HER+Data.

Here are some of the things that I have found helpful:I reach out to potential speakers personally, I share our mission with them and I tell them WHY I’m interested in getting them to speak.

I share clear goals and expectations.

In our case our talks are short (10 mins) and our events are informal, so I emphasise this.

I send an email in advance of our events to all speakers giving them a set of example topics to help inspire them.

I use each meetup/event to remind attendees that I’m always on the lookout for speakers and if anyone would like to volunteer please come talk to me.

I mention this at the start of each event and at the end of each event.

I reach out and rely on my professional network to recommend potential speakers.

I make sure to thank the amazing speakers who volunteer both before and after the eventI share details on social media — twitter and linkedin — to help promote and elevate the speakers who have kindly agreed to give a talk at one of our events.

#6 Finally, there will be highs and lows.

When work is really busy.

When I’m tired or stressed.

When my toddler refuses to sleep.

Or when balancing everything feels impossible, I sometimes question if HER+Data is the right thing for me to spend time on.

But then we have another event and I get to meet more amazing women.

I get to connect, learn and share.

I get to see familiar faces returning for another event.

I get to meet new people attending for the first time and wondering what to expect.

The conversation flows, the buzz starts and I’m all set!We receive such positive feedback from the community which really helps — knowing that HER+Data it’s facilitating connections, helping women find their way and encouraging more women to pursue or drive careers in data is really rewarding.

So my advice is — roll with the highs and lows :)Huge thanks to all the wonderful folks who have helped make HER+Data happen.

In particular my co-organizer Martina, HER+Data MCR chapter lead Rachael, the wonderful companies who have hosted our events and a huge shout out to the 36 amazing speakers!Karen is Director of Product Analytics & Data Science at Intercom where she leads a team of product analysts, data scientists and data engineers who help design, develop and measure the success of our products.

Her team use data to drive strategic decisions, inform product roadmaps and build new data products.

Prior to Intercom, Karen spent 8 years in industrial research labs — Yahoo Research in the Bay Area and Telefonica Research in Barcelona — conducting a range of scientific research at the intersection of mobile human-computer interaction (HCI), data science, and applied machine learning.

Karen holds a PhD in Computer Science from University College Dublin (UCD) and a BSc from the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB).

She is WiDS Dublin Ambassador and founder of HER+Data.

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