Women in Big Data So Cal Campus-Driven Model: Tips for Starting Your Own Chapter!

By Ilyana “Lily” Salem

The Women in Big Data Southern California chapter was begun in cooperation with the Marshall Business School at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. As the first campus-driven WiBD chapter, we’ve learned a lot about how to get a group up and running, and we’d like to share some information about the benefits we’ve reaped, and also to share a few tips to help others who are interested in starting their own chapters.

History: Our Story

I clearly remember the day I first connected the co-founders of the global Women in Big Data (WiBD) organization, Shala Arshi and Radhika Rangarajan. Shala was a keynote speaker at our Big Data Day LA event, also known as DataCon. Sponsored and hosted by our MS in Business Analytics program at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC), it’s the largest data event in the region, drawing nearly two thousand data professionals from across the nation. The Marshall Business Analytics program has had a majority of women enrolled for over three years running, and that orientation may be one reason Shala’s bio, and her association with Women in Big Data, caught my eye. Eager to learn more, I reached out to WiBD via Email and asked if we could start a SoCal chapter. I got a quick reply! Shala responded to me personally said, Let’s do it; she even mentioned that she would announce it officially in her keynote. That’s where it all  began.Women in Big Data So Cal Campus Tips_Newsletter Article

A Good Fit

As a career advisor to the USC Marshall MS in Business Analytics program, I am passionate about supporting all of our students, and it takes many partners and resources to achieve best-in-class career services.

Lily Salem

Seeing that Shala and Radhika worked together at Intel, a company with a great legacy and reputation in the technology industry (especially for equity and sustainability), I was inspired by the possible opportunities that an affiliation that WiBD could bring to our students in terms of inspiration, affinity, and confidence. I also knew I could learn a lot as a career advisor through involvement with this professional association, and that the insights I could gain would help me better serve our students.

Benefits of Membership

I frequently meet experienced women in big data who are highly successful and have noticed that they have something in common: they all have interesting stories to tell about being the only woman in the room, too many times. While these women are more seasoned than our current students, and come from a slightly different generation, I was curious to determine if we had achieved progress with the new facts, figures, and statistics of women entering this field, especially with our program having majority women at Marshall year over year.

At first I thought the horizon showed great promise and that the world of work could be more welcoming for our new grads. But once I started introducing the WiBD opportunities to our students, I quickly learned that our younger generations are still encountering the challenges that the seasoned professionals had been facing with over the life of their career, especially being the minority in the workplace and in meetings, and being treated differently for that reason. I knew it was my job as an advisor who truly cares about all of our students, men and women alike, to do more to convey that  a truly successful career path can be available for everyone. For these reasons, along with our shared passion, WiBD So Cal came to be.

We firmly believe in the goals of WiBD, and both our corporate and student leads see the potential that the WiBD So Cal chapter can bring to members, the regional workforce, and students. We are pleased to meet more and more new members and champions who are willing to join in and further our cause by partnering with our leads at each MeetUp that we host! Truly, this is something to look forward to at each event–that new people will step up and express their firm commitment to our group and an interest to help us do more. The passion expands exponentially for each event, and we are pleased to see that there are more members just like us, seeking a shared experience to address this cause that we are so passionate about and to contribute not only to a caring campus community, but to a more diverse workforce across generations, our region, and the globe.

Through WiBD, we have found a way to make our shared intent a reality. Our WiBD So Cal chapter brings immediate and tangible impact for the campus community and our regional workforce in terms of progress for individuals in their life and careers.

Best Known Methods

Here are some steps that will help you organize and kick off a Women in Big Data chapter.

  • Designate one of your core leads as a campus staff member.  This person will be charged with securing rooms for events and training sessions and other resources at no cost. This is a staff member who will be there year after year and can handle administrative protocols, red tape and preferences for your chapter to be seen in the best light and fully embraced across the campus community. This lead can also identify key stakeholders across campus, as well as existing events and other partnership opportunities (from academic programs, centers, student affairs offices and more) to build out your membership and secure key partners. In our case, the USC Marshall MS in Business Analytics program has been a proud sponsor who has been kind enough to donate funds for our MeetUp membership dues and WiBD So Cal stickers designed to build awareness and affinity. The co-founding lead for our chapter, Lily Salem, comes from the Marshall School of Business Graduate Career Services team, which also houses the sponsoring academic program, granting her the privilege to act as an efficient liaison between academic program directors, facilitate key employer connections, and announce events via student portals or other channels with high impact.
  • Designate core leads as students who gets things done. Typically this is a student who is ready to share her passion for the cause with the greater campus community and beyond. I shared the concept of a campus chapter with my team members in the career services office, fellow academic program director, and campus leaders across related programs; they each embraced it with grace. We decided it would be essential to share the leadership across academic programs (such as other business school degrees, undergrad programs, our school of engineering) and to place students from each of these communities in leadership roles to co-facilitate.Our first student lead was someone who stood out because of her passion and voice, as well as her ability to mobilize. Our rising star to take on this charge, April Zeng, was a second year candidate in our MS in Business Analytics program who had enrolled with the particular interest to pivot and make more use of her analytical strengths. April is articulate about her passion and drive as a minority in the field of big data, having had multiple experiences being the only woman in the room for meetings, as well as other tough-to-navigate work experiences that were closely related to our cause. April didn’t bat an eyelash at the challenge; in fact, I had barely blinked before she had arranged a WiBD SoCal launch event featuring four data leads at Netflix, an employer known typically as being hands-off in campus involvement since they tend to hire more seasoned professionals (yet a dream career target for many of our students). April knew we had to go big for our first event, especially for a cause she was so passionate about. She secured a large committee, and with nearly 20 student volunteers we kicked off our chapter, Nearly 200 guests attended, including students from across the campus community and local professionals.Today, we have passed the torch for leadership to the next generation of students, and through this effort have continued to hold monthly MeetUps to maintain momentum and best serve our membership community. Roselyn Bird took on the role as lead for our second generation of students and second year as an official chapter. Rose joins me frequently on calls to see how our new company leads can engage, and she’s sure to connect with everyone she can at networking events, making sure they know about our exciting cause. Rose just earned the annual WiBD influencer award, and I know as a die-hard fan that the best is yet to come for her.
  • Identify committee leads for top causes. By finding ways to put new leads into place, or ways that a lead can contribute specifically for your campus chapter, you’ll be fascinating to see the results. For our chapter, we recognize leads for the three key deliverables: Awareness building, a mentorship program, and event support for.
  • Establish a Mentor Program. Our success was driven by flexibility in terms of structure and involvement for participants and a dedicated and passionate lead, Keying “Claire” Que. We match participants based on location, industry, function and other factors such as group mentoring and family/life-balance topics. As an advisor, I mentored Claire on features that would appeal to participants having run mentor programs previously. We were also grateful to hear from another WiBD that had launched a mentor program and had great advice to share. We decided to offer both match mentors and events with activities for individuals who may not want to commit to an ongoing matched relationship. The matched mentor program is launched annually and our activities are held as Meet Ups throughout the year–a great way to engage new members, as well as deliver value to existing members, and an excuse to connect for existing matched members, many of whom are students. Claire took the program to the next level by teaming up with fellow students to find the most efficient way to code and program the matching process. After leading this initial process, Claire was so inspired that she has made it a point to express interest in sharing her insights for best practice with other groups who may like to also automate their matching process. A few limiting factors surprised us at first; one was that most participants were at an equal level in terms of their expertise and years of experience. For this reason, we were careful to disclose that the mentor experience would be more of a peer-to-peer advising concept, and that was a reason to ask members and participants to share our charge to work through this pain point to help us find more seasoned professionals to join! Another limiting feature is that mentor programs take time to deliver results, so we are yet to gather significant feedback to share at this point, being in our first year. We can keep you posted on how this goes next summer as we move into our second year.
  • Listen to your student leads. They all have stories that are fascinating! I had several of our student leads share their stories to kick off some of our Meet Ups, and they were most inspiring. These stories may never have come to light without our organization–another reason I promote the value in our campus community with fellow program administrators. The systematic way of bringing light to student stories makes me a better career advisor for existing and future generations, as I can better support students with strategies and connect about their pain points, interests, and challenges. Further, the stories shared are highly appreciated by new/existing members and have helped us to build relationships swiftly with new corporate leaders who might not have had such a community earlier in their careers, and who can both relate and give back in addition to appreciating the camaraderie.
  • Network, even when you don’t need to! Many of our leads have found themselves talking about WiBD in interviews, at work, or other events. Through this consistent effort to share the cause and connect, they were able to find a new event speaker or teacher for a technical training. This happens very often, and organically! In our efforts to consistently grow the WiBD SoCal network, we are able to partner more cross-promote events and expand our reach across the region. It has been both surprising and inspiring to see the response from high profile leaders in our regional community. People want to get involved!
  •  Lean on your Team. The greater WiBD organization is highly organized, and highly dedicated to chapter success. They host quarterly calls for leads that are most inspiring and encouraging in terms of sharing strategies to build your chapter tactfully and set the stage for a great return on the investment we give as volunteers. The quarterly calls feature leads from regions across the globe, and I walk away from each call feeling as though I’ve got new friends and acquaintances in new places doing great things for our shared cause. From Paris to Kenya and South Africa to Canada, WiBD leads are partnering with employers to deliver tech training and exciting events that gather fellow members together in ways that are truly making a difference in individuals’ careers and the greater workforce. At the close of each call I have a “to do” list that is strategic and aligned perfectly with our chapter needs; it includes items that I know will be high impact for my fellow campus leads as well as our chapter membership. These calls truly make a difference, and the extra dose of inspiration we walk away with as leads is priceless.
  • Connect! WiBD has established partnerships with employers that are ready to go beyond their regional community, including LinkedIn, IBM, SAP and more. While it takes time to establish a new chapter, the following features are guaranteed: 1) You are not alone and can connect with any WiBD lead across the globe for advice at any time. 2) For each event that you hold, your membership will grow exponentially! After our first event, we secured 400 members. That doubled by the end of our first year, and we expect to triple that as we go into our third year, with 1200 members on the horizon. Our student leads asked for one meeting each month to maintain, and we have successfully made this happen through partnerships, cross-promotions, and dedication to continued events and connecting members. Don’t be surprised if you start small in terms of total member numbers, and even total event turnout. In our first few years, we fully expect to partner consistently and leverage connections within the greater WiBD network until we can run a stand-alone event that commands a strong audience. We also aim to host events on campus and off, in different local regions, to strategically engage members and secure new ones.
  • Partner, partner, partner (and find a way for partners to bring free food!). In our first year we have leaned on partners with shared causes to cross-promote events ,and to team up to build attendance and a great following. The result is that we are on the pulse of local Meet Up events and have gotten to know fellow leads making a big impact in our community and share our passion and drive. With those characteristics, anything can happen!
  • Share the cause. This is a great way to cultivate a network of peers and champions for best practice, as well as feature your leads for speaking opportunities. Our WiBD SoCal chapter was selected to present our model for a professional association featuring our global WiBD co-founder, Radhika Rangarajan, along with our student leads and co-founding lead for an event called URx, which is held annually in the bay area and attended by both university career advisors and employer recruiters. The academic program sponsored our trip, and it was a golden opportunity for our student leads to personally hear words of wisdom from Radhika, as well as share their own. Get the full story here!
  • Follow our events! See how we have put three of the key deliverables for WiBD into action with WiBD So Cal by offering panels of great speakers who share inspiring insights, a mentorship matching program and activities for individuals, as well as technical trainings: https://www.meetup.com/Women-in-Big-Data-Meetup-SoCal-Chapter/ Make sure to also take a look at our past events: https://www.meetup.com/Women-in-Big-Data-Meetup-SoCal-Chapter/events/past/.
  • Read our Blog! See what we’ve done so far, https://www.womeninbigdata.org/?s=soCal

And one last tip: bear in mind that your dedicated involvement with WiBD will pay dividends. Taking on the opportunity and the tiny bit of extra effort to be a lead for WiBD is something that just cannot be replaced in terms of the types of conversations that are sparked between advisors and students, the camaraderie developed between students and their peers, and the new connections made for students and employers that strengthen this shared passion and cause.

About the Marshall School of Business

You may have heard about our B school lately, as we are all over the media, having been the first to reach gender parity for our full-time MBA program. While the closest B schools to gender parity peak at closer to 40% women enrolled, many more report far less. While articles are floating around lately reporting slower enrollment for women in B school, Marshall is pleased to have secured not just an equal number of women, but a majority for the full-time MBAs enrolled for this 2018 academic year. Even before our MBA reached such great strides historically,

As a career advisor to the USC Marshall MS in Business Analytics program, I am passionate about supporting all of our students and it takes many partners and resources to achieve best in class career services. Seeing that Shala and Radhika worked together at Intel, a company with a great legacy and reputation in the field of technology, especially for equity and sustainability, I was most inspired by the possibility of an affiliation that WiBD could bring our students in terms of inspiration, affinity, and confidence. I knew I could also learn a lot as a career advisor through involvement with this professional association, and that the insights I could gain would be essential for my job as I seek to harness the wisdom that is critical for success not only in the field of big data, but also to best serve our students.

Leave a Reply

d
c