Three things we learned from Dr. Talithia Williams and the Data + Women panel

Three things we learned from Dr. Talithia Williams and the Data + Women panel

This year’s Tableau conference felt extra special—not just because it was our tenth year hosting the action-packed event—but also because we could all feel the electric positivity surrounding our keynote speaker Dr. Talithia Williams and our fourth annual Data + Women session. Data + Women started out as a small group of less than 50 people back in 2014 and has grown to thousands of men and women over the years. Seeing so many of you come out to share personal stories, talk about careers, promote girls in STEM, and join the ongoing dialog about equity in the workplace is truly inspiring. Here’s a recap of three most prominent themes we heard about in these two awesome sessions:

1. Personal data matters for you and everyone else

Dr. Talithia Williams brought a unique level of intimacy to her keynote on Monday, citing her own personal data and its impact. She opened by sharing stories about the many motivating and even understated figures she’s looked up to in her life, including Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin. She shared that her love of numbers began as a young girl when she whizzed through mental math as a cashier, and she reminisced about her first Biostats elective course saying, “I remember like it was yesterday. That was the moment I fell in love with data.” But even after Dr. Williams became dedicated to academics and received her doctorate in mathematics, she still finds ways to use data in her everyday life—and encouraged all of us to do so, too.

Dr. Williams talked about collecting her own body temperature data each morning as a part of her pregnancy journey, and the ways in which her family tracks activity and eating habits to improve their health. “By changing the way we ate, the data in our body began to change too,” she said. She showed us how we can all empower ourselves with insights about our bodies and our lives to make the healthiest decisions for ourselves. “Using personal data can create your own digital footprint,” she said.

Dr. Williams also challenged us to think about how personal data can change the world for the better. For example, Dr. Williams worked on a project to explore personal body data from a group of smoking mothers. “We looked at this data set of smoking mothers and the drastic changes in the birthweight of babies... And with a single dataset, an entire industry changed!”

2. The data and day-to-day is not always sunshine and roses

In Dr. Williams' sessions, she alluded the ever-present challenges in analytics and in life. “Not everything is always roses,” she said. “Sometimes data tells you things you don’t want to know.” The additional Data + Women panelists, including Katie Weander, Emily Kund, Katherine Mathews, and Stephanie Richardson, discussed the idea surrounding the harsh side of data and also the challenges women face in their day-to-day careers. The panelists explored various hurdles and gave great advice for moving through the hard times.

Panelist Emily Kund, a government agency analyst, shared a piece of advice she received from a senior manager early in her career. “Time is on your side. Even though the situation might not be great or awesome now, there will be an evolution, there will be a maturation. If you keep that in mind, it will center you. I say that to myself a lot,” she said.

Dr. Williams added to the idea of positive self-talk by telling women to stop perpetuating their own self-doubt and add positive self-action. “Just apply. I used to take myself out of a job before I ever even applied. I’d see they’d want this or that and think, ‘Oh, no’ I don’t have that.’ So then you just took that job away from you. You will never get a job you don’t apply for. Be bold. Submit your application. You’ll be surprised what happens when you just take that step and apply,” she said.

Panelist Katie Weander, Senior Business Intelligence Developer at the Walt Disney Company, encouraged the audience to just talk about what you want with your managers—even if that changes. “Vocalize what you want. It’s okay if what you want today is not what you want tomorrow, the next week or even the next year. It’s okay to come in and say ‘this is what I want to be doing, and this where I want my career to go,’ and if that changes, it’s totally okay. But you have to make sure to say it again. If you vocalize it, then others will know what you want, and you’re opening up more opportunities for yourself by just telling someone,” she said.

3. Everyone can contribute to mentorship

Mentorship is a critical topic for women to consider for all aspects of growth. When asked about this topic, the panelists all shared different experiences of who their mentors are, what kind of mentors they want to be, and what kinds of mentor relationships make for the best outcomes.

The most notable theme was one about knowing what you want in a mentorship. Tableau’s Senior Director of Product Marketing, Stephanie Richardson said, “When you reach out to someone for a mentorship, make sure you own the conversation. Figure out what it is you want to learn, and be specific when asking for help.”

Stephanie continued saying that one of the best pieces of advice she ever got from a mentor was about the learning opportunities hiding in every situation—not just within the confines of a mentorship: “When you’re going through these really hard projects, or you’re working on something that is not the way you want it to be, every interaction is an opportunity for learning. It’s not always optimal and beautiful, but there will always be something you can gain from it. It taught me how to tear away the crazy and chaos and take what I can get from each specific instance,” she said.

Emily expanded on this idea saying, “I have a one-to-many relationship. I have a mentor for overall career development, I have one for communication skills, and I have one specific technical skills as well, because everybody has their thing. So I try to leverage their things, and hopefully people can leverage my things.”

Echoing the one-to-many mentors, panelist Katherine Mathews, a database manager at the Entomological Society of America said, “getting involved in a community, or getting involved in a whole group of people who were all about the same stuff really opened a lot for me.”

Stephanie agreed by citing one of Tableau’s own customers who said, “The community will never let you fail.”

As for Dr. Williams, while she looked up to Dwayne Wayne on the early 1990s TV show “A Different World,” because he was the first person of color she saw doing mathematics, her first real push to be her best came from someone very different than herself.

She said, “I challenge the men in the room. Because when I think about the person who really got me excited about math and numbers, it was my AP calculus teacher, Mr. Dorman, an older white man. Mr. Dorman was the one who pulled me to the side and said, ‘you know, you’re very talented in math, have you thought about majoring in it when you go to college?’ And what he said to me in that moment meant more to me than anything my parents had ever said. I thought, who is this older white man who thinks I can do math? And you think I can go to college? It meant more to me than any of the deaconesses at my church who would say to me, ‘baby, you’re so smart,’ and I would think—you have to say that. For me, hearing it from someone so different made it even more of an impact. So yes, women and women of color, you’re going to be an example, but often hearing affirmation from a source you don’t expect it to come from is going to make it really stick. I had validation from someone in the eyes of someone who didn’t have to validate me.”

Dr. Williams finished with this: “My challenge to us is to do what we love, live out our passion. Whether it’s data or whatever it is. We need to live our passion so we can leave a legacy for those people coming after us.”

To learn more, watch the full TC17 Data + Women session here.