Strategies for hiring and maintaining a diverse data scientists workforce

RTI’s Kristina Brunelle (left) moderates a panel discussion with Amy Roussel, RTI (center); Gracie Johnson-Lopez, Diversity and HR Solutions (right); and Sackeena Gordon-Jones, Transformation Edge and NC State University (on screen).

Data science is hot. That’s good news for workers with data science skills. It also means organizations competing to hire data scientists need to understand how to recruit talent that will solve their data science challenges and contribute to creating a productive and diverse workforce.

For many organizations, figuring out how to recruit and retain data scientists and fostering diversity among data science employees is a struggle, according to Kristina Brunelle of RTI International. Brunelle, Director of Organizational Development and Learning, moderated a panel discussion on data science hiring challenges on Thursday, May 24 at RENCI in Chapel Hill, NC. The discussion, sponsored by the South Big Data Hub, included panelists Amy Roussel, Senior Vice President, Social Policy, Health, and Economic Research unit, RTI; Sackeena Gordon-Jones, a human resources consultant and coach with Transformation Edge and an adjunct faculty member at North Carolina State University; and Gracie Johnson-Lopez, President and principal consultant with Diversity & HR Solutions.

Most of the discussion focused on attracting and retaining a diverse data science workforce. Successful workforce diversity efforts don’t stop with hiring people of different ages, races, genders, and sexual orientations, according to Johnson-Lopez. They also understand the importance of making diverse workers feel valued and removing barriers that might impact them negatively.

“Diversity is only part of the equation,” she said. “We’ve got to have answers to questions like: ‘What will this work experience be like for me? Will I belong? Will my voice be heard?’”

Employers must also consider equity and realize that all workers do not start their educations or careers with access to the same resources, and that many have had to struggle to overcome barriers.

“You need to understand others’ experiences,” said Gordon-Jones. Diversity, she added, “is more than a group issue; we need to look at individual roles too. Ask yourself, ‘How am I supporting or hindering this effort? How are my assumptions destructive?”’

All three panelists agreed that to create a more diverse pool of data science job candidates, employers need to define what they are looking for, figure out where to look, and determine how to continue professional development once the best candidate is hired. Data scientists come with a wide range of backgrounds, said Roussel, noting that at RTI, many employees with a knack for working with data did not come from a traditional math, statistics, or computer science background.

“There are lots of different paths to becoming a data scientist,” said Roussel. “It’s important to look in lots of places, including internally.”

Other tips for building a strong and diverse data science workforce included:

  • Develop internship programs with local colleges and universities, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Even better, start with high school students. These can open up long-term pipelines to diverse future workers.
  • Post open positions or partner with professional associations such as:
  • Include diverse people on interview teams, as well as people who will be the candidates’ work peers and customers. This diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints will give you a more accurate and well-rounded picture of the candidates.
  • Look at the skills and expertise that your current data science team is lacking, as well as the customers who will use the products the team creates. This will help to ensure finding a candidate who is the best fit for the job.
  • Sell your organization to your candidates. Explain your mission, brand, and value proposition so that they understand you and can determine if they want to be part of the organization.
  • Have onboarding plans not only for the first day, week, or month, but the first year. Provide quarterly check-ins where new employees can talk about how they feel about their role and where they want to be in a few years.
  • Provide lots of learning opportunities and employee resource groups that coalesce around interests and themes, such as women in data science, young software developers, etc.
  • Educate your existing workforce on what it means to be a diverse and inclusive organization. Where is the organization strong?  What might it need to do differently?  Where can it improve?

Dive deeper into diversity and inclusion issues and 2018 D&I Conference

For those interested in learning more about issues related to diversity and inclusion, the 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Conference will be held August 9 at the Brier Creek Country Club in Raleigh, NC. The conference, titled Inclusive Excellence and the Urgency of Now, will include sessions on best practices for understanding bias in the hiring process, retention strategies, panel discussions (women, millennials and CEO), and a session aimed at driving inclusion in membership organizations.  For more information and to register for the conference, check out the 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Conference website.

Read more: See the article “Diversity & Inclusion: 8 best practices for changing your culture” in  CIO Magazine.


Data Education–Inclusivity is the Word


As organizational and societal decisions become more data-driven academic institutions, industry, and government officials continuously identify data literacy as an important skillset for individuals currently in and entering the workforce.  Unfortunately, a dearth of qualified data literate employees exists producing a need for effective data science education and training for undergraduates.  Continue reading

Data Science and Emerging Economies: Students Attend #YCBS2018


Top Left: The South Hub SNAP award recipients with the Co-Executive Director, Renata-Rawlings Goss and an organizer of the Young CEOs Business Summit. Top Right: South Hub SNAP award recipients, Abdoulaye Gueye, Favour Ori, and Sylvester Ogbonda, pose with their awards during the Young CEOs Business Summit Awards Banquet. (R) The South Hub SNAP award recipients with the Co-Executive Director, Renata-Rawlings Goss, organizers of the Young CEOs Business Summit, and presenters.

The South Hub continually identifies opportunities to expose students and professionals to data science.  For example, the South Hub awarded five student’s registration fellowships through the SNAP-DS program, “Stimulating New Activities and Projects in Data Science,” to attend the Young CEOs Business Summit’s (YCBS) 2018 Annual Summit in Atlanta.  The South Hub developed the SNAP-DS program to provide travel support, student stipends, or registration fellowships for students to attend data-related workshops, conferences, and projects, such as the Young CEO’s Business Summit, that expose students to data science and the ways data science can better societies and businesses.   Continue reading

Workshop looks at forming EU-US big data partnerships

Participants in the international big data workshop in Versailles, France, take a break for a group photo.

In November 2017, the National Science Foundation’s Big Data Innovation Hubs sponsored a workshop in Versailles, France to discuss the formation of public-private partnerships in big data research among institutions in the United States and the European Union. Organized in conjunction with the Big Data Value Association, the PICASSO Project, and Inria, the workshop was the first of its kind to bring together international big data experts representing government, industry, and academia. Continue reading

South Hub, Microsoft team up to provide Azure credits for researchers

Earlier this year, the South Big Data Hub partnered with Microsoft Research to offer researchers in the South Hub region the opportunity to apply for cloud credits on Azure, the comprehensive cloud services platform offered through Microsoft. The opportunity was designed to provide cloud computing resources to support data-intensive research projects.

Continue reading

Confronting the data challenges of ‘smart health’


NSF’s Wendy Nilsen speaking at a South Big Data Hub Roundtable.

Each day countless devices—from monitors in hospitals to diagnostic tests to Fitbits—capture huge amounts of health data. That data could change how patients and doctors interact, how diseases are diagnosed and treated, and the amount of control individuals have over their health outcomes.

But there’s a catch, says Wendy Nilsen, PhD, program director of the Smart and Connected Health Initiative at the National Science Foundation.

The data is plentiful, Nilsen acknowledged. The challenge, she said, is how to make that data easier to use, how to standardize it so it can be analyzed, how to scale it, keep it safe, and how to account for external factors such as the environment or a person’s genome.

Nilsen discussed these challenges and how to address them in a roundtable discussion hosted by the South Big Data Hub on October 14. Nilsen’s talk, titled “Smart Health and Our Future” provides an overview of the challenges that must be addressed as well as the ultimate goal: A system where patients use data to take more control of their health and where healthcare practitioners can use data from multiple sources to improve diagnoses and health outcomes.

To view the presentation slides, click here.

Data science education in traditional contexts: Reflections on a recent webinar

On August 28, Karl Schmitt, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of mathematics and statistics at Valparaiso University, attended the webinar Data Science Education in Traditional Contexts, hosted by the South Big Data Innovation Hub as part of its Keeping Data Science Broad: Bridging the Data Divide series. The webinar featured five speakers, including Schmitt, who is also the director of data sciences at Valparaiso. Each speaker talked about their own programs and experiences in data science education as well as some of the challenges involved in creating and implementing educational programs in a field that is still very new and in the process of being defined. Continue reading

Big data and public health: New scenes and a new state of mind

Bigdatahealthcare-3By Eun Kyong Shin

The 2017 International Conference on Social Computing, Behavioral-Cultural Modeling, & Prediction and Behavior Representation in Modeling and Simulation (SBP-BRiMS 2017) was held in Washington, DC, in July, and prominent fields applying social computing techniques include public health and healthcare. In early modern epidemiology, data collection processes relied heavily on painstaking manual labor. Data on a large scale was hard to obtain and resulted from careful observation and intensive recording. Since the introduction of the internet and advances in digital communication, massive amounts of dynamic data have accumulated exponentially. Along with the digitization of medical practices and other social data collection process, the nature of scientific discovery has been fundamentally changed. Continue reading

Visuals, storytelling help make sense of data


Panelists discuss data visualization at a recent workshop sponsored by the South and West Big Data Hubs.

By Mark Schroeder

Throughout human history, stories have helped us make sense of sequences of events in our lives, infer cause and effect relationships, and share them with others. Just as our own memories are fallible and retelling stories can shape how we remember events, data can be fallible too. Its value is shaped by the process used to collect it and can be incomplete, incorrect, or biased in some fashion. How can we use data to gain true insights about the world and share them despite these challenges?

Continue reading

South Hub and partners to hold data-driven storytelling webcast this Friday

The American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship Big Data Affinity Group, in collaboration with the South Big Data Hub, West Big Data Hub, and The National Consortium for Data Science, are making this Friday’s data visualization and storytelling event available for virtual attendees. To learn more about the event, visit the website or read our earlier blog post announcing the event.

Data-Driven Storytelling: A Deep Dive into Visualization Techniques 
July 14 | 9:00 AM – Noon ET | WebCast
Join the Webcast:
Call-in number:1-415-655-0003
Event Number: 641 886 660 | Event password: dataviz​