Women in Tech: “The same salary for the same work should be a given”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Three years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Laura Fink, Head of Data Science at Micromata.
A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
Three years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Laura Fink, Head of Data Science at Micromata.
Today’s Woman in Tech: Laura Fink, Head of Data Science at Micromata
Laura Fink first studied biology and physics at the University of Flensburg before dedicating herself exclusively to physics at the LMU Munich. She then started her career as a software developer for Java at the software company Micromata. Through her participation in the research project VAMINAP for the detection of pollutant residues in purified water, she came into intensive contact with Machine Learning and Data Science and then moved on to Python and R.
As Head of Data Science, she is now driving forward the development of data science competence in the company and regularly publishes show and use cases on the topics of data analysis, machine learning and computer vision.
When did you become interested in technology?
My interest in engineering and computer science developed very late, during the final phase of my physics studies – more precisely in the biophysics laboratory. I found it incredibly exciting how scientific problems could be solved and questions answered using all the equipment, mathematical models and specially written software, some of which was assembled by students themselves. It was then that I first really realized how complex and creative working with data and technology can be.
At school, I was mainly interested in math, physics and biology. Although we also took our first steps in programming at the Informatik-AG, I found it terribly boring. After graduating from high school, I actually wanted to study medicine, but when I didn’t get a place at university, I decided to become a teacher for the subject combination biology and physics.
However, during my bachelor’s studies I realized that my interest in the natural sciences was much deeper and I was worried that in the long run I would not enjoy working as a teacher. For this reason, I dared to take the plunge and decided to study physics.
During my master’s degree, I came into contact with machine learning more and more through courses and through my thesis – and I knew immediately that this would be an important topic in Germany in the future. After graduation, however, it was difficult to find a job as a data scientist. As far as I know, the title did not even exist yet. That’s why I first ended up in software development.
How did you end up in your career path? Did you receive support from your family and friends?
First and foremost, my parents always supported my curiosity and never gave me the impression that I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl or now a woman. In addition, my leap from Realschule to Gymnasium would not have been possible if my middle school director hadn’t said “yes” back then. That was certainly great luck! I am especially thankful to my professor in the physics department at the LMU Munich, who made it possible for me to work together with different disciplines and institutes and gave me a lot of freedom.
Furthermore, I work in a company that is explicitly committed to promoting young female talent in IT. Although I myself no longer belong to the “new generation”, I am pleased that there are more and more companies that are making concrete offers to reduce the fear of contact with the so-called MINT subjects, especially among young women. In the case of my employer Micromata, for example, this happens within the framework of “Girls Go Informatics”, a joint project with the University of Kassel. A further practical support is certainly that our personnel team is very concerned about the compatibility of family and career – for example with flexible working hours, home office and a parent-child office.
My parents always supported my curiosity.
A day in Laura’s life
I work as Head of Data Science at the Kassel-based software company Micromata, where I am responsible for driving forward Data Science, Big Data and AI as new business areas. Because these endeavors are still young, I work closely with the marketing and acquisition team – for example, I develop showcases and use cases for existing and potential customers to show them the added value of Data Science for their individual business areas, and carry out small analyses to show them the potential that lies dormant in their own business and technical data. Of course, this also gives me the opportunity to dispel one or two myths surrounding the topic.
In my spare time, I am active on the data science platform Kaggle, where data scientists from all over the world compete against each other in small competitions or make data sets and analyses available as open source content. There I regularly publish articles and analyses on various topics related to computer vision, security of machine learning algorithms or simply exploratory analyses that help to better understand the data of a competition.
In this way I can continuously improve my skills and explore new topics that are not related to current project topics at work. This is a lot of fun, especially since behind Kaggle there is a very active, helpful community that shares its knowledge and supports each other.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
Unfortunately, it happens from time to time that a woman in a “man’s job” is underestimated in her competences and abilities. This doesn’t even have to happen intentionally, but in my opinion is simply due to unconscious reflexes, which in turn are based on the distribution of roles that you experienced yourself in childhood. Unfortunately, I have already experienced this: In a meeting, next to the – naturally female! – assistant to the boss, I thought I was the only other woman in the room. Only to discover that this female “assistant” was actually the boss herself. So beware of stereotypes and unconscious prejudices – on both sides!
I think that entrenched patterns of thinking can only change in professional life if more women enter the tech industry or STEM subjects. As soon as this has become normal rather than rare, the old role model will disappear.
In addition, the compatibility of work and family must improve, especially since women often take over the care of children because men are better paid. Equal pay for equal work should be a matter of course. In addition, more flexible working time models and more openness towards remote work and home office are very helpful, as I can say from my own experience.
Beware of stereotypes and unconscious prejudices – on both sides!
Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?
Anyone interested in occupations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) should have the opportunity to learn and practice one – regardless of gender, age, social or cultural background. Companies and development teams can benefit greatly from diversity, especially if the finished product is to reach many different groups of people and work equally well for all of them.
I am thinking specifically of an example from my everyday life as a data scientist: the early detection of skin cancer using computer vision. Algorithms that are trained on image data without diversity fail here because of all those cases that have not been considered. In a more diverse one, such a risk is lower because there are simply more perspectives, experiences and points of view. This makes solution strategies more versatile and reduces the risk of cognitive distortions or blind spots.
I think the discussion about diversity is very important. Just because I have been lucky in my life to have encountered hardly any open resistance, this does not necessarily apply to everyone. I personally also think it is important not to limit the debate on diversity to gender issues alone, but to understand it as a dialogue for the participation of all in society.
Have you ever experienced any obstacles as a woman in tech?
So far I have encountered only a few people who have deliberately tried to block me in achieving my goals.
And even then, with a little patience and creativity, I was able to reach these goals in other ways. One should simply not be intimidated and absolutely trust one’s own talents.
Apart from the unconscious reflexes that I have just described and the aforementioned set screws for more equal treatment and family friendliness at work, I must say that I personally have experienced very little gender discrimination.
What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career?
Have faith in yourself! If you encounter obstacles or rejection along the way, do not be discouraged. There are always possibilities to reach your goals. You do not have to go it alone, but rather use the networks of like-minded people who can support you directly and indirectly. Have the courage to make important decisions for yourself and to shape your life confidently in your own interest.
More Women in Tech:
- Women in Tech: “Degrees can matter but they aren’t required”
- Women in Tech: “The IT sector requires a lot of energy and will”
- Women in Tech: “I got to be a self-taught, self-managed, problem solver”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t let irrational advice keep you from tech!”
- Women in Tech: “Don’t be afraid – bite your way through!”