Delegates at the annual event heard from Axita Bhalsod, vice president of analytics and data science, at Egencia
Travolution Summit: More needs to be done to promote data and tech roles to women
Travel businesses need to do a lot more to promote roles in tech and data science to ensure there is a more diverse workforce ready to face the challenges of the future.
Axita Bhalsod, vice president data and analytics at Amex GBT owned travel management company Egencia, estimated that just 15% of STEM subject graduates are women in the UK.
She said more work needs to be done with school pupils to present job in data and analytics to the next generation of workers as they decide what to study at GCSE and A-Level.
Bhalsod said the scale of the gender disparity hit her last year when she attended at graduation ceremony in the north of England where just 15 of 180 were female.
And she said the situation it not improving. “I think there’s a lot more awareness that needs to happen. I entered the field and thought, wow, this isn’t boring at all, this is really exciting.
“People ask what is it about travel and data science that excites you. Well, you are actually able to make decisions and see the results of what you do from a value perspective.
“We create models, we make decisions, we create new products and they go to market and that’s the excitement, but that’s not what you really see when you do your degrees.”
Bhalsod said the reason many women reject STEM subjects and careers in data and tech is because people who do them are often introverts and remain in the background.
And she said firms must make sure they have diversity in their interview panels and produce gender balanced job descriptions.
“It really is about a perception, and the perception is it’s boring, what’s the value? What would I do in a role as a data scientist? We have to really change that.
“To change that it doesn’t start at university it goes back to my school days when I was thinking about what A-levels I want to do.
“I go into those education institutions to talk to GCSE and A-level students about what I do and the people I have within my teams who have professional qualifications such as data science and artificial learning engineers.
“There’s still a lot to be done especially if we want to have a diverse workforce and to ensure that that this is the future as we go into multiple businesses not just travel.
“There has to be more done through early education systems. There has to be more done through mentoring as women enter the market.
“I was quite privileged and very lucky to find mentors, they don’t come you, you have to go and find them.
“I have been very lucky on both male and female mentors globally. Now it’s about how do we foster that and continue to grow that.”
She added: “Data is in every role and it’s about understanding how to use that data to make decisions. In the UK education system we don’t emphasis that enough.
“We don’t look at financials and don’t look at maths as being beyond GCSE. As consumers become more data savvy they want more understanding and maths is a big component of that.”
Bhalsod told delegates she eschewed family expectations of a career in medicine and competed a masters in operational research, which she described as boring.
But she was able to get onto a graduate programme with Centrica during the dot come era and gained experience of different areas of business.
She then joined Expedia, where she spent 15 working on business intelligence and AI in various divisions, including Hotels.com and Egencia before it was sold, in both Seattle and London.
This period also saw her have two back-to-back pregnancies which saw her return to the UK before leaving the workforce for a year each time and resume her career.
Bhalsod said her career was “not linear”. “The challenges across that whole journey was coming out of work, and going back into the workforce after pregnancy it’s very fast-paced, it’s constantly moving.
“When I did come back, I was just the second person who had a child in a very young organisation. In itself that has some challenges.
“I took a note and said I’m not going to allow that for the next person going down that path. So we set up support to allow women to continue back into their chosen career path.”