New York — In November 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that while women fill 47% of total U.S. jobs, they only hold 24% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs.
Despite being in the minority, Sarah Steele and Jialu Yan, both Data Scientists at Fareportal – a company on the forefront of technological innovation in the travel industry – are two key players who are driving the company’s innovation, as well as paving the way for females in the data science field.
Sara Steele was drawn to data science from a young age thanks to sci-fi series, Star Trek. She became fascinated by the machine learning that seemed to make many of the plotlines possible. This fascination carried her all the way through a Master’s Degree from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from New York University.
“I love working with data because it’s like a puzzle,” said Steel. “You put in the time working through it and then when you finally figure it out, you have this ‘Ah-Ha’ moment, giving you a great sense of accomplishment.”
A graduate of Stevens Institute of Technology, Jialu Yan also credits television for her interest in the field. She recalls learning about how, in 2011, Netflix was able to guarantee that their first attempt at original content would be a success.
Ultimately, they used big data to analyze their audiences’ interests in order to conceptualize, cast, and produce their hit political thriller, House of Cards.
“I was so intrigued by the insights about their audience that they were able to extract,” said Yan. “When I started to think about how this can help us solve real-life problems, I decided it was something I wanted to pursue professionally.”
From machine learning to artificial intelligence, to the internet of things, the field is exploding and is only expected to continue its rapid growth for years to come. Yan envisions data science moving from being a separate department within companies to being intrinsic across all teams and verticals, driving decisions and becoming the key to building products.
“Working on a team of smart women has provided me with a great atmosphere to grow professionally,” said Yan. “The team works very closely together and we are able to generate a lot of inspiration and new ideas. As a whole, the environment at Fareportal doesn’t put any extra pressure on us to perform because we are females; it is more focused around our own personal capabilities.”
“Having women working on our data, technology, and product teams means more than just checking a diversity box,” said Corissa Leong, SVP of People & Culture at Fareportal. “We’ve observed that our teams excel when there is diversity of all kinds. Our management and our employees highly value the different ideas and perspectives each person can bring to the table.”
Steele feels fortunate to work alongside other scientific-minded women at Fareportal. She can recount a lack of female mentorship during her education and career and hopes to change that for the next generation of data enthusiasts.
“Young women should consider data science as a career for the same reason anyone should consider it — it’s powerful, engaging, and rewarding, but most importantly, it’s changing the world around us every day,” says Steele.