Whether it is a doctor diagnosing and treating a complex medical condition, a financial institution determining who qualifies for a loan, or even your favorite streaming service suggesting what movie you should watch next, data science influences many of the decisions that impact our lives.

With data at the heart of nearly everything we do every day, the field of data science is booming. Still, women remain woefully underrepresented among data science workers, in the United States and worldwide. According to a 2021-22 report from data and analytics recruiting company Harnham, just 27 percent of professionals in the industry are women.

So how can we change the representation of women in data science — and why does it even matter?

That is the topic of discussion for “Inspiring Diversity in Data Science: A Worldwide Movement,” the next event in the Northern Virginia Technology Council Data Science Speaker Series. Held in partnership with Virginia Tech, the event is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. Registration is required.

This virtual event features keynote presenter Judy Logan, co-director of the Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference at Stanford University. Logan will discuss why she and her colleagues at Stanford started the Women in Data Science initiative and how the WiDS worldwide community is working to increase the representation of women in the field.

Aiming to inspire and educate data scientists nationwide — regardless of gender — and to support women in the field, Women in Data Science started as a one-day technical conference in 2015. It has since grown into a global movement with a number of worldwide initiatives, including a datathon, a podcast series, an education outreach program, and a workshop series.

The signature initiative of Women in Data Science is its worldwide conference, which features over 200 regional events in more than 60 countries, reaching 100,000 participants annually. Virginia Tech joined the movement in 2019, with the first Women in Data Science Blacksburg Conference held that spring. Planning for the 2023 WiDS Blacksburg event is in the works.

Following Logan’s presentation, a group of panelists — all women working in data science — will provide further discussion about progress they have seen in the field, what they view as keys for success, and challenges yet to be addressed.

Angie Patterson, who serves as the co-director of the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics Capstone program at Virginia Tech and became a WiDS ambassador in 2021, will moderate the event.

Also joining the panel discussion are Poornima Ramaswamy, chief transformation officer at Qlik, and Radha Sambasivan, vice president of software development at Mastercard.

“Throughout my 30-year career in industry, I became comfortable often being the sole female team member, but then finally started asking myself: ‘What is wrong with this picture?’” said Patterson. “Professional development of women in STEM fields became a personal passion, and now, as a professor in the Department of Statistics, helping build the pipeline of future statisticians and data scientists has my attention.”

The NVTC Data Science Speaker Series launched in 2021 in partnership with the Virginia Tech Academy of Data Science to showcase the impact of data science in the modern era. Previous topics have included the reality and future of data science and the sports analytics revolution.

“Virginia Tech is very pleased to be partnered with the Northern Virginia Technology Council in presenting this latest event in their Data Science Speaker Series,” said Tom Woteki, director of the Academy of Data Science, which was founded in 2020. “We are proud to be able to highlight the contributions of women in all STEM fields, including data science.”

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