A few months ago, I was asked to speak at a workshop that a CPS high school was hosting for kids in a STEM program. They asked me to talk about my career and experiences as a data architect. I worked hard to put together an engaging presentation, hoping to make data seem fun and interesting to these young high school kids.
I had a million technical problems, but i made it through, whew! I was thankful they couldn’t see me literally sweating through my shirt. I was almost finished, when the host opened it up for questions: “I’m wondering what it’s like to be a woman of color in data? Have you been able to share your experience with others?” That was probably the one question I wasn’t ready to answer…
You see, I’ve always felt different. I grew up a bi-racial kid with a last name only my good friends cared to learn to pronounce. I was raised by a single mom who barely made enough to cover our bills. I had a commuter college experience, and I worked full-time through my entire four years of school.
It wasn’t until I got my first consulting job that I realized just how different I was. I wasn’t polished. I didn’t have any greek affiliations, I had never gone anywhere for spring break. I hadn’t even tried sushi before! I worked so hard to hide my differences. I wanted to blend in, to be just like everyone else. Working in data, meant I had an extra layer of work. Back when I first started, it was all men. I wore the same white (sometimes blue) button down shirts and trousers they did (except, do you know how hard that is to pull off when you’re a (5’ nothing female?)
So blending in… I did it well enough to get hired at some cool places, meet cool people, learn new things, and have a career in data. But, never as a woman of color, always as Pauline, I’m just like you!!!!!
As I was preparing for this workshop, I wanted to leave them with an inspirational, and inclusive message. The data world needs you! We need your diverse ideas! I walked them through my career path, what I do, and why I love it. When they asked me that question, I stumbled for what felt like 80 minutes. I wanted to make them proud and talk about how diversity has come a long way, and I’m proud to be a woman of color in data, but that wasn’t my truth. My truth was that I actively shunned standing out and being different. But that’s not what we need right now, is it?
We need people who are brave enough to stand up and be different. To celebrate the things that make them unique, so that young people can have someone to look up to, and say – well she did it, and I can too. So today, I am coming to the table to share that I am a woman of color in data. I am a working mom. I am the first in my family to graduate from college. I do think differently. I do have different experiences, and ideas, and for the first time in my life, I am celebrating those differences. I am promising myself that I will have a stronger answer next time I’m asked that very important question.