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Why Three Women Made The Switch Into Data Science
[Image: 3066208-poster-p-1-how-these-three-women...cience.jpg]

In the U.S., women earn about 40% of undergraduate degrees in STEM fields overall, according to a recent study, yet receive less than 20% each of the degrees awarded in computer science, engineering, and physics. That leaves a pretty serious gender gap in one of the most in-demand fields around: data science.
But while widening the so-called "talent pipeline" is one important way to narrow that gap, it's not the only solution. If girls can be exposed to STEM programs early on in their educational careers, there's no reason why adult women can't make the leap into a data-based role later on in their professional ones. In fact, that's exactly what these three women did—and not from adjacent roles that were heavy on computational skills, but by pivoting out of creative jobs. Here's how.

Rebekah Iliff, who’s 38, spent the first half of her career exploring her knack for the humanities. She graduated from college with an undergraduate degree in philosophy and went on to acquire a double master’s degree in organizational management and applied community psychology. For the first half of her career, she worked in PR, including running her own agency for tech clients.
"Working with engineers has forced me to learn a completely new language of communication. Engineers think linearly."
In her PR work, Iliff says saw herself as a storyteller—being able to think creatively by putting disparate pieces together. A in her world could just as well be connected to D as to B. The only hitch, she felt, was that results of those connections were more a matter of faith than calculable ROI; it was more art than science.
Frustrated by the lack of accountability that created, Iliff was introduced to the founder of AirPR, a company that had just launched in order to solve that problem. Having launched nearly 100 startups in the U.S. market, Iliff knew the high value that founders placed on getting predicable outcomes from their PR investments, which were too often elusive—leaving Iliff and her business partner to have to constantly justify their budgets on what scant data they actually had.
Iliff signed on in 2012 as AirPR's chief strategy officer and "went from one side of the equation to the other almost overnight," she recalls—"from writing and creating stories to taking all the information PR generates and putting a value around it using technology, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data."
Initially the company's only female employee (it's now about 22% women), Iliff reflects that growing up with three brothers helped make her entry into a male-dominated field a little bit easier. "Working with engineers has forced me to learn a completely new language of communication," she says. "Engineers think linearly."
But Iliff found that storytelling skills she'd spent the first part of her career developing still came in handy, too. "You have to learn to ask the right questions and make things more concrete. You need the patience to understand where someone is coming from."

Like Iliff, Sce Pike never imagined working in data. In college, she'd dreamed of being an artist or singer, majoring in fine arts and anthropology. Her career path from that point forward was anything but direct. Pike, now 41, segued from art to web design to "human factors design," which studies human-machine interactions, for the telecommunications giant Qualcomm.

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