Leading with Purpose Blog Series

Fostering Gender Equality and Diversity in Big Data

posted by Abby Glenn |

Amazon can accurately predict what you’re likely to purchase next. Netflix knows what movies and tv shows you want to watch. Healthcare providers can identify and analyze certain risk factors you might have. And, the government knows whether you are evading your taxes or not. None of this is done blindly—it is the impact of big data. Regardless of your feelings around privacy and “big brother,” big data truly dominates our daily life. Yet, as an industry, it is primarily led by men.

According to Built In, only around 25% of jobs in the technology sector are held by women in 2021. In addition to that, women hold less than 20% of all leadership positions in this field (Finances Online). 

In today’s Leading with Purpose series, Morgan Templar, Vice President, Information Management at Highmark Health, discusses hiring based on potential, putting hiring managers through unconscious bias training, increasing flexible working options to boost gender diversity in technology, and the need for mentorship.

Throughout this interview, we discuss why she chose big data, how organizations can diversify their teams, and how you can be an ally to an underrepresented group.

Panel:

Morgan Templar – Vice President, Information Management at Highmark Health

Quyen Pham – Vice President, Sales and Marketing at Swoon

Colin Harris – Division Director, Cloud and Data Management at Swoon

Megan Hari – Director of Marketing at Swoon

Megan: Women hold only 26% of data jobs in the United States. Given the lack of diversity in the data field, what sparked an interest in big data for you, Morgan?

Morgan: To be honest, it happened in a very organic manner for me. I had a lot of really great women mentors that have paved the way for me. At Highmark Health, our President is a woman, and the three SVPs under which I was hired are three strong women who have already been leading the industry. I did not set out to be a leader in technology. In fact, I am not even technically trained, which I believe is one of the most interesting things about women in technology. Many of us are here because we have managed people, or we have managed projects.

As we all know, digital transformation is the buzzword of the day, and it is really 60% transformation and 40% digital. The technology aspect of it is something that we can learn or rely on experts for. Having leadership and understanding of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how it will benefit society is something that we can bring from experience in any field. From my point of view, getting into technology and being a part of an organization, particularly one that women in technology strongly represent, was an incredible moment for me in my career. To wrap it all up, it has been an organic, but overall, an amazing journey for me in this field.

Quyen: When you started your career as a young woman, did you know what you wanted to do? Did you have some path in your mind of what you wanted to accomplish?

Morgan: I always knew that I wanted to be a part of transformation. I love to build, envision an idea and then see it become something real. Back in 1990, I was actually a stockbroker and working in finance. I was not in the technology field at all. I was helping people with their portfolios and doing trust administration, which was a very different place from where I am now. But, even then, I knew there was a better way to do things than looking everything up in books. It is one person at a time learning something, and there just had to be a better way of disseminating knowledge and disseminating information so that it democratized understanding. So, it has really been one of my missions to get information out there and empower people to control and improve their own lives. The way to do that is through technology.

Megan: What external or internal factors would you say have contributed to your success as a VP of Data Management?

Morgan: The thing that has driven me to where I am is that I am a little bit stubborn, and I am not afraid to be equal with everyone. One of the things when I counsel young women, in particular, is that no one is above you, and no one is better than you as a person. Your individuality, your sovereignty is just as equal as everyone else’s. So, you should disregard anyone telling you that they are better than you or those that make you feel like you are not enough or do not belong. You can learn from it, but it is not the deciding factor. The deciding factor is that you know who you are, you know what you can do, you believe that you can do it, and you just grab it and go. No one is more qualified than you in the things you are qualified for, and if anyone can do it, so can you.

Megan: So that boils down to knowing that you have a voice and being your biggest cheerleader.

Morgan: Completely. There are so many opportunities out there for you if you just learn to stand up for yourself. We often quote that women do not ask enough for their salary or negotiate hard enough. Still, when I mentor younger individuals, no matter the gender, they do not know that it is okay to ask for a sign-on bonus or counter an offer. You do not have to be afraid to say, “wait, can I get more than that? I am worth more than that.” That knowledge of knowing that you are worth more and being willing to champion yourself is absolutely crucial. No matter how many times you are mentored or how many people I have mentored, I am not in that negotiation seat when they are trying to get a job or a promotion. They must understand, for themselves, that it is okay to ask for more, and you do not have to accept that first offer.

Quyen: That confidence, strength, and belief in yourself is a very powerful thing. Where do you think that comes from?

Morgan: Truthfully, it is a little bit because of my upbringing. My parents raised us from very little. There were nine children in my family, and we did not have a lot of anything. However, our parents always taught us that we could be anything, do anything, and have the right to be anything we want if we were willing to work hard, learn and step out of our comfort zones. Neither of my parents went to college, but all my siblings and I have advanced degrees. We have all taken that learning of it does not matter where you came from because you can be anything you wish as long as you are willing to put in the work and learn along the way. Everyone falls. You just have to get back up.

Megan: In your path to leadership, who have been your allies and advocates? Do you have any mentors that have stuck out to you, and can you share that experience?

Megan: What ways can leaders help overcome biases and help ensure that we eliminate those biases to bring in diverse individuals?

Morgan: This is not something you mandate from corporate. Your diversity scores are not high enough? What does that even mean? Because what it means is we need to grow individually. Each of us has accountability as a leader to find within ourselves that the growth of everyone is equal and everyone is welcome. To expand our own horizons because it is not enough to say, “oh, I have a high diversity score.” That is meaningless and only matters if the people matter. I have a diverse team, but I did not go out and seek diverse people. It simply happened because everyone is welcome and has equal opportunity. When that happens, people naturally gravitate towards that because it is a welcoming environment. As a leader, I am not looking at my candidates and saying that I need an XY and Z. I look at their qualifications and bring in the right people, and because of that, the skills that I need are everywhere. Having a diverse team reflects the fact that I live and embrace a diverse community in my own life.

Quyen: To add, I think there is unconscious bias in all of us, and so we have to be aware of what some of those things are. There are tests out there that can tell you what your unconscious biases are, but your responses can also depend on various factors. For example, because I have taken so many tests, I have found that I am biased towards different things depending on my mood that day. So, you have to be careful with that. But, you do need to be aware of certain unconscious things that we think about, things we do not think about or do not give consideration to that come into play in the workplace, which can be challenging to diagnose. But, as long as we are aware of it and we are all thinking about and challenging each other at the leadership level, we can help each other grow. 

The other aspect that I would like to add would just be to be mindful. Privilege and coming from privilege allow you to access many things that people who do not come from privilege do not necessarily have access to. The playing field is not even, and it was not even to begin with. When you come from privilege, you have a different rising education level, friends, influencers you might know, and you have access to various mentors throughout your life. So, we have to think about how we, as leaders, thoughtfully level the playing field for this very matter of how we get people who do not come from privilege to have access to the same things so they can learn and be coached to have a seat at the table one day. That is definitely one of the more challenging things to think through on how to accomplish this, but it will take a deliberate effort. It takes mentorship programs to say this is what we want to do and make it even possible for everyone to have a seat.

Colin: Morgan and Quyen, you both spoke to having that mindset, and everyone has to have that mindset of going out and seeking other people’s opinions to learn and become a better leader. It can be intimidating to go directly to the source and say something like, “this is my opinion, and it may be biased, but I am trying to learn, so I would love to get your insight and perspective on this topic.” While it is from an organizational perspective, like Morgan said, it is also crucial for us as individuals to be very self-reflective. We each need to understand that maybe there are things that we are not entirely comfortable with or need to go to the source to find out more information. We need to build partnerships with different individuals or groups that are different from ourselves to keep moving forward.

Morgan: When it comes to leveling the playing field, I believe it is a lot easier to get opportunities for yourself. If I were a young person coming into my career and wanting to learn how to be a, let’s say, a Vice President of a major healthcare corporation, there are many ways you can learn or build relationships with those already in the field. You can follow me on LinkedIn or follow the other amazing women on LinkedIn that post regularly about their passions and how they got to where they are. Have conversations with these people, comment on their posts, reply, or even go to Clubhouse and have a literal discussion where you can hide behind an emoji or picture of a cat if you are not comfortable on social media. This also helps eliminate unconscious bias because we cannot even see your face if you do not want us to. There are more things available today than ever before to allow people to step across that line where you had to reach your hand out in the past, and someone would have to pull you across. There are many opportunities for you to step across that line by yourself through mentorships or building relationships with people where you simply would not have had access to in the past.

Colin: I recently read an article on providing guidance for being a male ally at work and was wondering how you see white males, like myself, being an ally or an advocate for women in technology or data management?

Colin: Do you have any recommendations that you would give to organizations to help them promote more women in data management?

Morgan: In a lot of ways, that is a pretty tricky question to answer. You need to have the proper training and the right understanding. For example, many people in my age group did not have computer classes, and we did not have that education available to us. I do not have a degree in IT or a degree in technology. I was given opportunities because I was willing to learn, which is essential for moving up.

If someone is eager and has demonstrated that they know how to manage things, I do not necessarily need them to have a degree in IT. I need them to have an understanding of how to be a great manager. Those other soft skills are just as essential as technical skills. Often, if you have someone who is really technical, they will not necessarily be a great manager or leader. Often, people in technology are more introverted and like every answer to be perfect before speaking up. So, we must watch actions, look at outcomes, and look at how the individuals impact the organization instead of the individuals who are just good at speaking. Those are important things, but they can be taught if given the opportunity. The bottom line will always be how that person can perform, their outcomes, and how they can make the organization better because those are the people we need to be hiring.

Quyen: What would you recommend to a young woman in college that is looking to begin their career in data management and get their foot in the door?

Morgan: Internships are always a good idea, but there are sometimes barriers to getting one as it is the same as applying for a job. I have people reach out to me on LinkedIn and ask for 15 minutes of my time to sit down and learn more about what I do, how I got into this field, or the available opportunities. I am always more than happy to spare 15 minutes of my time because I think our obligation as leaders, especially in technology, is to bring others along and bring a more diverse group into our field. It is not going to just happen, and it cannot just be on the person coming into the field to figure it out on their own. There are a lot of paths into data management and technology. So, if you do not know a door, follow someone on LinkedIn and ask them a question or comment on their content. I live by the fact that I must help others on this path as others have done for me.

Meet Our Panel:

Morgan Templar

Vice President, Information Management at Highmark Health

LinkedIn

Quyen Pham

Vice President, Sales + Marketing at Swoon

LinkedIn

Colin Harris

Division Director, Cloud Computing + Data Management at Swoon

LinkedIn

Megan Hari

Director of Marketing at Swoon

LinkedIn

Want to read more? Check out our previous Leading with Purpose Blog: Making an Impact, Advice From Diverse Female Leaders!