What’s Good? Women in Data with Autumn Battani. (March)

Welcome to the March edition of “What’s Good?”.

Each month will have a tailored theme, this months is Women in Data.

I am so pleased to invite Autumn Battani to the blog for the March “What’s Good?” Autumn is a consultant at Tessellation, a Public Featured Author, and a good friend of mine. Recently, I’ve been super impressed by the amount of high quality blogs Autumn has done, especially her recent collaboration on design. If you haven’t seen her blog and Tableau do check them out and follow her on Twitter.

Autumn and I talked quite regularly over the past few months (Since Lockdown number 3 if you’re in the U.K) and it’s been a fantastic way to chat through new ideas we’ve had. One of those is the below visualisation for our collaboration for this month’s topic of Women in Data.

We compiled a list of those in the data visualisation industry who have really impressed us and made this visualisation so others can give them a follow. I will let Autumn’s blog cover off the who/what/where and how we went about it, she has an exciting collaboration blog out soon. A massive thank you to all those that got involved! This has been one of my favourite projects.

Click here to view the full dashboard on Tableau Public.

Click on an individuals image within the grid to learn more. You can find details around how long each individual has worked within the data field, their country of origin and their social media details. We asked each individual to choose one of 5 questions to answer which you can see displayed in the bottom right hand side of the visualisation. You may need to hover for the full response where an individual put a longer response. Happy exploring!

Now onto a few questions…

CJ: For those who don’t know you, how did you end up in a data role?

A: I am not entirely sure. Looking back on my passions growing up it makes a lot of sense. I gravitated heavily to two things: math and creative outlets. But I don’t think I ever would’ve anticipated doing the kind of work I’m doing now. When I started college I thought I was going to be a Psychologist, and to be honest there’s more overlap between that and data practitioners than people think. I wanted to help people. And in a sense I still think that I am in just a different way. Professionally, I help people understand their data. I help people make better business decisions. I help people stop problems early on. I help save them time. And in my outside work, I try to help people better understand the world around them. So my purpose has remained the same in that regard. 

My first job was studying television viewing habits and trends for Disney. It bridged my background in studying people [from Psychology] with my love for entertainment. And with that came making sure we were connecting people to the content they wanted to watch in the way they wanted to watch it but also making sure it was reflective and representative of the viewers. That was my first ‘data’ role but it didn’t feel all that much about data as it did about the people.

 TLDR: baby steps. I went after things that interested me and felt meaningful to me and then I ended up here.

CJ: You’re unique in the community for making your blog more than just Tableau. Why is that important to you?

A: We’re humans before we’re data scientists or Tableau developers or BI specialists. And that emphasis we put ourselves to exceed in and exude one particular thing can be harmful, and exhausting. I love data, I love Tableau. But I also love movies and food and traveling and lots of other things. And as Tableau became a bigger part of my life it became really important to me to keep a balance, to remember and honor those other parts of myself. And I want other people to know it’s okay if they do that too. Because it took me a bit to realize that people supported Autumn the person and not just Autumn the viz maker. And if other people have those hesitations just know people will welcome you where you are with what you got. I try to bring that energy to both my blog and my Twitter. 

CJ: I particularly love your blog because it encompasses you as a person. It brings with it authenticity and is hugely relatable to. Take for example, your blogs on charts and parameter switching. You often make quite complex things easier to understand. Do you think the technical aspect puts people off?

A: It’s really daunting to see other people’s work let me tell you. I feel it all the time. And I think people get really nervous about the technical aspect really early on. You know this but I’ve recently just made my first radial viz. I had put it off for so long because I just assumed I couldn’t do it. It looked hard. And it really wasn’t that bad. But I also was fortunate to find a blog that explained it in a way that made total sense to me. So my advice would be, if people feel like something is too hard or they read a blog and don’t understand it, keep searching. There will be so many blogs on whatever it is you want to learn and there will be one that hits the spot. 

And it’s something I tried to think about when I wrote that blog. I tried to think about why I find some tutorials more helpful than others, what do I wish for from them and tried to translate that into the way I wrote it. Because I know what it’s like to struggle and feel discouraged and I don’t want people to feel that way when they read my stuff. 

CJ: Why do you personally love working in data? How do your technical experiences of data differ at Tessellation compared to Disney?

A: Is it because I’m super Type A? It might be. I love data because I’m a super curious person. I think the reason I love Tableau though is because I love efficiency. When I first started integrating the tool into some of our regular reporting at Disney, we were mainly in Excel. And I immediately saw the value add not only for how much time it was going to save us but how much more varied and flexible our insights were going to be. It felt like my Swiss army knife in that role. Excel is for reports, Tableau is for reporting.

The biggest difference between what I was doing at Disney and what I do now is that my role is entirely Tableau based. And I think the way that feels sort of speaks a little bit to what I was saying before. At Disney my role was very much on analyzing and informing. Now I’m a little more removed from the numbers in the sense that I’m not focused on what they are, I’m focused on how to best elevate them and portray them in a way that a lot of different people and teams can utilize them for their roles. It required a bit of a mindset shift I’ll be honest. And both have helped me grow my skills in such different ways. I feel quite lucky to have had both of them. 

CJ: Who are your biggest inspirations?

A: CJ, I appreciate his friendship, his positivity, and his encouragement. It keeps me going. Everyone go get you one. 

Damola Ladipo is killing it. He’s one to watch. For starters his output is insane. I’ll have connected to a dataset and in the same amount of time he’s put out 7 vizzes. But they’re ALL FIRE. Right now he’s someone whose work is motivating me to do better. 

Judit Bekker gets a lot of credit in the design category but not nearly enough for being a great person. I love how she just has this really unique personality and she’s so true to it. 

MY MOTHER. Is the funniest, most genuine person on the planet. I try to be more and more like her every day. 

Can I name things? I love food diagrams. That’s probably something people don’t know about me and I want them to because then they can tag me when they see them and I’ll be happy. I have a lot saved on my computer. I’ve always wanted to illustrate one myself but I don’t think my skills are there yet. My caffeine viz is pretty close.

I love Chef’s Table on Netflix. I love the way it’s put together, the music, the cinematography, and the stories they choose to highlight. It makes me want to be more intentional with the things that I do. 

The way citrus smells and the sound of opening a can of pop. 

CJ: Your recent diversity in data initiative has been a massive success. I loved the engagement it got, especially the dataset on female CEO’s. What were your favourite visualisations from this? Did they translate your own opinion on the subject?

A: My favorite thing to see is people reaching outside of the data we provide or thinking past where the data set ends. Aida Horaniet’s entry from January is a great example of that. She projected out how long it would take to see equality with Fortune 500 CEOs. I also thought Ant Pulley’s from February was thoughtful in that it allowed the user to further educate themselves. I think it’s a great step in the direction of our goals. Eve and I started this initiative to help educate people but we wanted that to be just the starting point for them to build their knowledge around these subjects and think more critically about them on a regular basis. And I think looking at the data and taking it further is a great beginning to that. The information doesn’t stop with what we provide and we hope that the people participating don’t stop there either. 

CJ follow-up: Why do you think we have such a disproportionate gender split in the fortune 500 and how can we correct it?

A: I told CJ this question was really hard but I’m going to try my best. There’s three contributing factors in my opinion. The first is history. The lack of access to education, inability to work, and discouragement of doing so sort of started women (and lots of other groups) behind. On top of that, they haven’t really been given the resources to catch up. There are still a lot of stigmas, negative and harmful opinions and biases that people in power hold that make it harder to break past those barriers, that’s the second thing. And then I think last is the corporate structure. I think a lot of places need to seriously reevaluate their hiring and promoting practices and their office culture. I don’t think the recruiting process treats people equally. And then once people are on the inside they aren’t treated equally then either. It’s an uphill battle so shout out to all of the strong women, not even just the CEOs, all the strong women everywhere who have gotten where they are. 

How can we correct it? Million dollar question. I’m going to say something possibly controversial. Diversity isn’t that hard. I actually find it quite tiresome when people treat it like it’s a huge task. The biggest barrier to diversity isn’t the process to accomplish it, it’s motivating people to want to. The people who can make the necessary changes to significantly push the needle aren’t doing what it would take. Not because it’s hard, but because they aren’t prioritizing it. It makes me so sad as a woman of color when people talk about diversity and inclusion like a war’s worth of effort because it makes me think, why is valuing and making space for others that hard for you? 

CJ: What interesting facts, blogs or stories prompted you whilst researching datasets for your I&D initiative?

A: Corporate America is really male dominated but Disney had a lot of strong women in power and I was fortunate to meet several of them. Having them as an example and someone to look up to really motivated me. While I was at Disney I had the fortune of meeting Kathleen Kennedy, Jennifer Lee, and Channing Dungey. Some of Kathleen’s credits include Jurassic Park, E.T., The Sixth Sense, the Back to the Future trilogy, Gremlins, The Goonies, Poltergeist, Schindler’s List, and The Color Purple. Can you imagine having a resume like that? For ANYBODY. Let alone a woman coming up at the time she did. Entertainment has very much historically been [and still is] a boys club. It is stunning the things she’s accomplished. And now she serves as the president of Lucasfilm. To be tapped by George Lucas as a successor -brain explosion emoji-. I was in awe of her and her story and her conviction when I met her. She’s insane. Jennifer Lee THE WRITER OF FROZEN..Let me say that again, THE WRITER OF FROZEN! Is also the head of Walt Disney Animation. Other than being in charge of such an influential part of the company, especially for young women, she also has such a great presence. I met her at a talk she gave but we also worked in neighboring buildings on the Disney lot so I saw her around regularly. She was always smiling, always laughing, always saying hi to people. She ate a real lunch in the caf with the rest of us peasants. That may seem like a strange thing to point out but few executives were ever seen around and tbh they didn’t look very happy (I did see Bob Iger in the caf once and I followed him around the salad bar with an empty tray panicking). This probably makes me sound crazy but I’m good at reading people and I know she’s nice. And last but certainly not least, Channing Dungey. She led ABC at a time when it was really championing women led content and stories about people of color in a way that other networks were not doing or prioritizing. She’s a force to hear speak and she’s so mindful about creating realistic, relatable, and representative characters. All of them were doing amazing things in a space that was extremely competitive for anybody, let alone women. Role models like that are so important. I’m going to have to do a viz on one of them now aren’t I? 

CJ: If i was to grant you three wishes about Tableau what would they be?

A: You know me. Design options, design options, and design options. I want more fonts, I want rounded corners, I want drop shadows. I want to make things in Tableau that look like some of the modern tools/websites that we use without having to go to another platform. I LOVE Adobe Illustrator. I don’t think that’s a secret. But I don’t waaaant to use it as frequently as I do. But my dashboards feel incomplete without it sometimes because I want that extra little touch. Also, maybe along the same lines, I’d love to be able to copy and paste containers and formatting? I think that could be useful. Ugh, now that I’m thinking about it there’s so many things coming to mind lol. The formatting options of parameters and filters are so limited. Oh I’d love conditional showing of containers/parameters too. Okay, ceej, when can I expect these?

CJ: What small changes can we make that will have a big impact on attracting women to data, specifically?

A: I don’t think it’s about attracting as much as it is about being welcoming. Women are attracted to data. But whether or not they feel like there’s a place for them is a whole different thing. Being respectful towards, open to, and encouraging of different perspectives and approaches is really important. There can be a tendency to think problems should be solved a certain way and to label things outside of that box as incorrect or in need of fixing. There’s a bunch of ways to cross a river. And that’s been one of my bigger struggles, feeling like thinking differently wasn’t going to be accepted. And it can also lead to a bit of condescension and that really alienates people from pursuing things and also from feeling confident in that pursuit and putting forth their ideas. 

CJ: Whilst I’m not sure how your answer of ‘To be a butterfly’ got through Quality Assurance when asked on our viz “What did you want to be when you grow up?”… I do want to know your thoughts on how education and upbringing impact career paths?

A: CJ wants me to dissect the patriarchy and the education system and effects of region and people’s socioeconomic statuses all in one blog and I am STRESSED. Okay. Gosh, where do I even start. Not everyone is encouraged to learn or made to feel like learning should be important in their lives and that is so heartbreaking to me. I think the US has a long way to go in regards to that and especially in relation to access to secondary education. I think the way you are positioned towards education growing up has a significant impact on not only how you approach your career and that journey but also in how you think about yourself. School is probably the biggest part of most children’s lives so whether or not it is put forth as valuable AND achievable leaves a lasting mark on how you choose to spend your time. Also there’s way too big of an emphasis on output that betrays actually learning and I think that translates to career choices. If you grow up thinking an A is more important than knowing the information I think it can translate, in a capitalist society, to thinking status/financial gain from employment is more important than passion and dedication. I know putting food on the table is important. It takes a certain level of security and privilege to choose your interests above monetary needs, I’m just saying it’s messed up and starts early. 

I was fortunate at a young age to have a family who thought the world of me and my potential. I was told I could be whatever I wanted to grow up. Which was a butterfly at one point. But it was also a lawyer, an oncologist, and the first female President of the United States. And no one [in my personal life] made me feel like I couldn’t do it. And that carried me a long way. There were people later on, school staff, boyfriends, professors, who made me feel like my dreams were silly or like I wasn’t good enough to achieve them*. But because of the upbringing I had it was SIGNIFICANTLY easier to brush them off. That kind of confidence starts young and I wish everyone had the support I did. 

*I was especially told this when I talked about my career goals in conjunction with my family goals which is egregious. The way working mothers are treated is terrible and I don’t think the pandemic helped that at all. 

CJ: What advice do you have for women who want to work in the field of data visualisation?

A: Two things I think have helped me, but the jury is still out on whether or not I’m doing well. Number one, find a support system. They don’t even need to be in your field. Find people who will champion you, encourage you, console you if need be. In any field. You’re going to be way less afraid of falling if you know someone has your back. 

Number two, stand up for yourself even if it makes people uncomfortable. I think a huge burden a lot of women carry is deprioritizing their feelings, their justice, and their mental and emotional well-being because it makes other people feel better. Try to stop if and where you can*. If someone says something you don’t like, that doesn’t sit right, that you think is inappropriate, that’s condescending or disrespectful, that’s inaccurate, SAY IT. It might go poorly. I’m not saying this because it works out all the time. I’m saying this because even in the moments where nothing changed or someone got upset, I still knew that I did right by myself. And that gets me through the hard bits. Not everyone you meet will be nice to you or will look out for you, so you gotta do it for yourself. 

*Phrased this way because I KNOW it’s easier said than done. I’m not saying it’s simple, it’s really hard. But it’s worth it. 

CJ: You can go to dinner with three people dead or alive, who are you taking? What meal are you having?

A: Churrascaria. It’s not even my favorite type of food but it’s the first thing that popped into my mind. That says, “dinner with celebrities” food to me. I cannot explain this. Who’s at the dinner party, let’s see. This is so hard because I’m afraid to find out they’re lowkey terrible! I’m going to change your question and you can’t stop me. I’m picking three women from the data community I’d love to have dinner with. Dzifa Amexo. Without a doubt. The brightest light I can think of. I probably don’t even deserve to have dinner with her because I’m such a grumpy old grouch. She’s a fairy princess and I’m a bridge troll. Soha Elghany. I don’t know her well but have you ever just thought of someone and knew you’d be good friends? I feel like we’d get along. I love her work, I think she’s fantastic really. And Emily Kund. The breadth of the stuff she does really amazes me and it’s so high-quality and thoughtful, I’d love to just have a chat. So that’s my group* and I’m stickin to it. 

*Honorable mention to Sarah Bartlett and Michelle Frayman who I have adopted as my data godmothers even if they don’t know it. 

CJ: In terms of technical skills, what’s top of your list for this year?

I’ve been TRYING to learn Python. I think I would be getting on with it better if I had more genuine intentions. I don’t even know why I’m learning it but I think there’s a little bit of a feeling that I just should. I’m sure it could help me in some way but all I’ve done so far is make a tip calculator and I already knew how to do that. 

D3js is absolutely on my list and my little heart would be so full if I could accomplish it. I’ve seen such kickass (can I swear on here?) things from it and with my love for design I think I could really make something of it. Gotta find the time though. 

Alteryx. I think it’s the PB to the J that is Tableau. Especially now that I’m not working with as clean data as I was before when I was at Disney. When I was in house it was a lot easier to push back and ask for resources towards that but in a consulting environment you get what you get. 

CJ: Finally, do you have any other collaborations coming up?

I DO! So by the time this blog comes out two will have been announced already. One is that Diversity in Data is partnering with Project Health Viz and Sports Viz Sunday in the month of March to build awareness around adaptive sports. I think this is a great topic and one we’re excited about across the board. So I expect to see a submission CJ! Diversity in Data is also doing a collab in April that I think people are going to be really engaged with. We’re still well over a month out (at the time of me writing this) and I am already planning out my viz for it, it’s going to be epic. The other thing that will be announced by the time this blog goes live is my community event with Eric Balash that is going to go throughout the month of March as well and I hope people enjoy it and participate! I think it’s a fun twist on getting people involved. Also in very early stages is a viz collab with none other than Spencer Baucke. It may be my biggest and baddest viz yet so stay tuned. 

Also if you’re interested in the idea of collabs, check out my blog on what it’s like to do a collaborative viz coming out this Sunday!

CJ Round-up:

I am so pleased to have had Autumn as a guest on the blog, she strikes the perfect balance between addressing serious questions on gender equality, inclusion and diversity whilst maintaining her jovial self. Before we put this together we joked that I would let her write answers, then I would create the questions round whatever her thoughts were. You can probably understand why, when Autumn describes food diagrams as one of her biggest inspirations.

I particularly enjoyed hearing about Autumn’s experiences at Disney and some of the success stories from female exec’s there. It was also great to hear Autumn’s thoughts on the fortune 500 and a need for change in terms of I&D. Elvis said it best: a little less conversation a little more action. Although, he probably wasn’t talking in relation to corporate structure and organisational design. I can totally understand Autumn’s view of “Diversity isn’t that hard”. Concentrations need to be on actioning change rather than talking about it. Stating the obvious, we can’t change the past, but we can change the future.

Best of luck to Autumn with the upcoming blogs, she is playing such a fantastic role in the community and it shows. Keep at it with the python, I alongside a few others are going through a similar process. If you’d like to join in on the learning you can find the course a few of us in the community are doing under “100 days of code” on Udemy. The instructor has probably made a small fortune by now with the number of people I’ve recommended it to.

Happy International Women’s Day.

LOGGING OFF.

CJ

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