Champions of Representation: Discover Women in Big Data

By Lisa Cannon.

Founded in 2015, Women in Big Data (WiBD) is an organization geared toward championing the success of women—and increasing their representation—in the technology industry, especially in the realm of big data. There are many members and leaders of WiBD at Intel. One of the organization’s co-founders and current president is Shala Arshi, senior director in System Architecture and Simulation (SAS). Elaine Kwok is the WW awareness and evangelism lead and Social Media Director for WiBD and she’s also a customer engagement manager in System Firmware Products (SFP). And Meena Arunachalam, a principal engineer in Machine Learning Performance, is director of the WIBD Pacific Northwest Chapter.

We asked Shala, Elaine, and Meena to tell us about some of the milestones WiBD has achieved over the past few years and to talk about the future of the organization.

Q: What progress has the organization made recently? 

Shala Arshi

Shala: We’re proud of the expansion of Women in Big Data globally, with 30 chapters in US, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Israel, South Africa, Nepal, Australia. A big change in 2020 was incorporating WiBD and establishing it as a non-profit organization with a strong board of directors consisting of leaders in different disciplines. We started as a local volunteer group of 15 people, and since then, we’ve grown organically to 16,000 members around the world.

We’ve also improved our outreach. In 2018, WiBD expanded its social media use from LinkedIn and Twitter to Facebook and Instagram with use of rich media. To nurture and keep the rapidly expanding new members feel connected, a WiBD quarterly newsletter started at the end of 2018. Members who made significant contributions or had inspiring stories are interviewed and spotlighted, as well as new chapter initiatives, and blog posts on meetup topics.

Q: How is the organization adapting to the pandemic?  

Shala: The big adjustment has been in delivering our training and workshops. The forcing function of moving online to deliver our training as opposed to face-to- face has actually been beneficial. We can offer more training and to a wider audience to include other geos. It feels like we are closer together.

Like the Strata Conference, which has moved online, all our events are virtual and anyone can take part. We offer the training via our meetup channels and anyone interested can join.

Elaine Kwok

Elaine: Adapting to the pandemic has made WiBD find new ways to stay connected and to reach even more members. By shifting our meetup model to virtual, we’ve been able to bypass having to drive through traffic and create discussion formats that sustain audience engagement and participation.

Meena: I am hearing from our chapter members and volunteers that they want to continue to stay active, connected, offer meetups and training sessions virtually through online events. Our members and volunteers are eager to connect with bigger WIBD community experts across the entire globe, not limited by any geographical boundaries. 2020 may set new challenges and approaches for connecting but the spirit of WIBD community stays stronger ever more.

Q: What are some of the big initiatives for 2020?

Shala: In addition to converting in-person events to online events, a big initiative for 2020 is to continue to increase our company partnerships and sponsors. We are also looking to further expand on both technical and soft skill training, with more speaker representation in big data and AI/machine learning across the industry.

Going forward as a 501c3 non-profit organization, using funding from donations, government, and private foundation grants, and with monetized content and services, we will further and deepen our mission by scaling up and out to serve more people in more places; and developing and nurturing chapters in underserved areas to deliver programs to underprivileged populations.

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