Meeting Up at URx: University Partner Model for Women in Big Data™

By Roselyn Byrd

Introduction
Co-founding lead for Women in Big Data (WiBD) Radhika Rangarajan and Southern California chapter leads shared best practice insights in April 2018 as they participated in a panel at the second annual University Recruiting Conference, dubbed “URx,” in San Francisco, California.

L. to R.: Roselyn Byrd, Radhika Rangarajan, April Zeng, Lily Salem

Co-founders of SoCal WiBD April Zeng and Lily Salem, as well as incoming lead, Roselyn Byrd, joined forces with Radhika to explain the motivation behind creating this MeetUp platform for the Southern California chapter through a partnership with the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business MS in Business Analytics program and the synergy that propels our global MeetUp to keep expanding and succeeding through local and regional strides. The panel discussion focused on how SoCal leaders co-founded their chapter and leveraged resources through the university partnership, a first of its kind for WiBD. Key features for this partnership that drive synergy include a connected community of women in higher education, and those in the field who can participate in key deliverables such as panels, technology trainings and mentorship, with the backing of university resources such as meeting space with smart classrooms and auditoriums offered at no cost.

Driving Forces behind the Organization
Before jumping into how the SoCal chapter and global WiBD organization were created, the leaders first shared their personal stories on what pushed them to be involved and become so dedicated. A shared theme was passion, and lots of it. The panelists talked about personal and professional experience of marginalization and determination, as well as inspiring success stories as they each explained their driving force to champion the cause. April and Radhika shared similar experiences of working in the tech field and consistently being “the only woman in the room.” April shared her drive to work towards diversifying the tech industry when she realized she “was the only women in every room she entered,” when she worked as a tech consultant before pursuing her master’s at USC. Roselyn shared a contrasting yet equally inspiring experience, having had the uplifting experience of working with an all-female team at the United Nations before joining her master’s program. As Roselyn took steps towards to advance her career in the tech world, she became determined to create more women majority teams, since she noticed how advantageous her team was to her own professional development. Lily, a career strategist for the USC MS in Business Analytics program, has always devoted her work to creating a more diverse and inclusive environment and was quick to recognize the value of partnering with WiBD. Having recognized an enrollment trend for the STEM graduate program featuring a consistent majority of female enrollment at 60%, Lily quickly recognized the opportunity to create value-added career experiences through a WiBD chapter. Backgrounds, reasoning and experiences were diverse among the panelists, but the emphasis on passion and dedication to expanding WiBD initiatives across our professional community and beyond served as a common, courageous and timely theme.

Formation and Evolution of WiBD: 9 Elements
The panel put a spotlight on WiBD co-founder Radhika, who discussed in depth how and why the now-global organization began. Starting as an idea with a colleague at Intel in 2015, WiBD is now 5,000 members strong across the globe. Radhika placed an emphasis on the importance of adaption and growth. She stressed that “you need to be adapting quick enough” or your organization will become obsolete and people will lose interest, or it will lose its purpose. WiBD is fortunate to have such a champion behind the cause, and her presence on the panel made an inspiring impact. Radhika presented 9 elements that are crucial for building a product, a community and a career: Passion, Clarity, Execution, Value, Alliance, Accountability, Pipeline, Measure and Adapt. These 9 elements propel WiBD forward in efforts to improve diversity in the big data field by holding stakeholders responsible and to build a scalable and sustainable community model.

April took a turn to lead the discussion and shared her story about co-founding the SoCal chapter and what she has gained since the chapter was created in 2017. April has since further enhanced her entrepreneurship, leadership and networking skills through effectively leveraging 15 committee members’ individual strengths to building a chapter from the ground up. The SoCal chapter hosted an incredible kick-off event by partnering with Netflix and the USC MS in Business Analytics graduate program. A panel of four of Netflix’s leading women who work with big data engineers spoke at a 200-person venue at USC to a full house. Recalling the event, April grinned with excitement and expressed how all of her hard work paid off after this successfully kick-off, especially since it involved one of her dream companies, Netflix. This could have never happened without such an outlet , and without the influence of WiBD as well as the key chapter partner, USC’s MS in Business Analytics program. Lily confirmed that not only was this event a dream come true for April, but her leadership and vision created a benefit for her greater campus community, the Los Angeles data community, and beyond. The WiBD platform brings together seasoned professionals and students alike, who may not have such an opportunity to connect otherwise.

Conclusion: Furthering the Cause
It was an honor to lead a session at the URx conference, and panel members hope their stories and insights sparked curiosity for other employers and university leads to consider how they can take an active role partnering with WiBD to further the cause and build inspiring communities for generations of talent to come.

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