To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March Cogs are honoured to be featuring 5 inspiring females making an impact in the digital space. We speak to these women about their experiences, philosophy, successes and learnings.
In this edition of our Women’s Day series, we will speak to Hanan Belarbi, Head of Data EMEA at RGA an international innovation consultancy. Hanan, based in London manages the Europe, Middle East and Asia regions.
1. Tell us about yourself, your leadership style and philosophy?
In a few words, I’m a data lover, a chocolate connoisseur and a humanitarian. After graduating with a masters degree in Statistics and Economics, I started my career working for data consultancies who shaped my technical skillset and strategic mindset back in Paris. I then moved more towards the creative industry using data and technology in innovative ways at companies like Wunderman & Naked Communications. I joined R/GA, a digital innovation company, nearly 3 years ago, where I’ve been responsible for leading the strategic evolution of the company global data capability, helping create transformative opportunities for clients.
I naturally took on leadership roles and realised that with a leadership position comes greater responsibilities. The first one is to serve the people under your leadership. Every achievement in my career is not the result of my only effort but a combined effort with the people around me. I like to look at it like being the captain of a ship. A leader should make sure people under her responsibility know that she will be the last one to leave a sinking ship.
2. What made you pursue technology or engineering
If I’m honest laziness played a significant part in my choice to pursue STEM. At school, I was naturally better at science and enjoyed it more than literature or languages. It required less effort for me.
What has led me to a career in data is my curiosity. I love to learn new things, and when manipulating data, you never know what you are going to discover. What I find the most exciting is that data break misconceptions. Working in this field made me realise how, as human beings, we are full of biases. I like a job where I need to get closer to the truth by removing biases that could corrupt my dataset and therefore, my findings. What has kept me in the data field is the pace of how the discipline has evolved. My role did not exist when I graduated. We used data mostly to tell stories of the past, and when lucky, we could do some predictive modelling. We are now teaching machines to learn. Every month I hear of new tools, platforms or methodologies. It is such a stimulating domain that is currently changing the way we live. It feels good to be part of that change.
3. In your career, what do you feel is the greatest transformation/innovation in technology and what do you think is up and coming?
My field evolution is mainly due to the boost in computational power and storage capacity as well as the reduction of storage cost. 1 gigabyte of storage went from nearly 1 million pounds to less than 2 cents. We sent men on the moon with Apollo 11 that could perform around 40,000 instructions per second. It is 10 billion less than a standard laptop today. It is insane and exhilarating at the same time.
The art of making sense of data as for a long time be done by technical people who could manipulate it. We see more and more new technology, enabling people less technical to manipulate the data. We will see the boom of machine learning as a service and fully managed AI service.
4. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about working in the Tech sector today?
Not to fall into the usual stereotype, but the old fashion cliche that the tech industry is a sector where people work in dark rooms, by themself and lack creativity is well alive. It is a total misconception as working in tech requires true collaboration and tremendous creativity. The innovations of the last few decades are clear proof that it is a wrong impression.
5. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
The lack of inclusion. I believe companies are undertaking changes to improve their diversity ratio. However, I don’t see many doing what is necessary to help their employees understand their own biases and reward those who are working on them. While we see more and more women at a leadership level doing their job is not as easy as it would be for a man due to the lack of inclusion. While barriers are being erased to allow women to have leadership roles, barriers need to be removed to give similar chances of success for women once in a role.
6. When you face challenges as a leader, what encourages you?
Challenges are drivers for me. Some are healthier than others, but I usually use them as fuel to become stronger and better. I like to remind myself that when it is work-related nothing is about life or death, and that failure is only when there are no learnings.
7. Do you have any parting advice for women on how they can progress in this challenging but exciting space where they are still considered a ‘minority’?
I’ll tell any woman to enjoy herself, remove the imaginary barriers we unconsciously put to ourselves and be useful to people around you. Success as a leader is not down to one person, but to the capacity to gather and motivate people towards a common goal.
Thank you Hanan, for taking the time to speak to us and our readers. We wish you success and joy fulfilling what you set out to do at work and in your personal endeavours.
Connect with Hanan here:
Cogs celebrate all the achievements women have made to make their workplace and the world a better place. Happy International Women’s Day and Women’s Month to all the ladies.