"Diversity is hugely important in data science to avoid bias"
This #INWED2022 we’re celebrating some of the inspirational female engineers working for us and helping to build a brighter future. Rebecca Vickery is the Lead Data Scientist for our Customers business and a huge advocate of encouraging more women to work in data science and software engineering.
This interview is also available to listen to:
Q. What type of engineer are you?
A. I’m a data scientist and I joined EDF’s Data and CRM team in 2021.
Q. What does your job involve?
A. Data science is all about solving problems with data. We combine some traditional skills, like statistics and maths, with more modern computer programming and data processing skills to derive insights from data and solve problems.
It’s a job that requires technical skills – like Python programming and SQL. But also a lot of softer skills. For instance, communication is really key. We have to talk to our stakeholders to solve problems with data. We need to be very creative and innovative as well, to come up with new solutions and ways of doing things.
Q. What motivates you at work?
A. I really, really enjoy data science. And one of the main things that drives me is impact. So I like to feel that the work I’m doing has a big impact somewhere.
My role at EDF offers this in so many ways. For a start, the work I’m doing is usually to help our customers, so I’m able to improve their lives through my work. But also, EDF’s company purpose is to help Britain achieve net zero. So the work I do can also help to solve problems to do with climate change and our environment. This really, really drives me; and it’s something I enjoy enormously about my job.
Q. Can you give an example through the projects you’ve worked on?
A. We’re currently looking at Energy Hub, a tool that enables our customers to view their energy usage, and understand what appliances and activities use the most energy in their home. In this project, we’ve been analysing the data to understand exactly what impact the Energy Hub has on a consumer’s consumption. So we can identify if the tool is helping customers and influencing their energy use.
Q. What’s been your career path?
A. I began my data science career in the travel industry. And although it’s a very different sector, some of the problems are similar. For instance, we’re largely using data to solve problems for our customers. I also draw on similar tools and skills.
Q. Are women equally represented in engineering?
A. I’m a huge advocate of trying to increase the number of women in data and tech roles. At the moment, women are highly under-represented in these positions and I’m really keen to do something to help with that.
Recently I’ve set up an employee network specifically for women working in data and tech roles, with three main objectives. First, we want to help women in these roles already – particularly if they’re the only female on their team – by offering them extra support. Second, we want to help women who don’t yet work in the sector – but who would like to do so – to move into data and tech roles. Then finally, we want to look at how we can help with recruitment earlier on in the pipeline. For instance, potentially working with schools or universities to try and increase the number of women entering data science.
Q. How does EDF support diversity?
A. EDF is hugely supportive of diversity and inclusivity. There’s a huge range of networks across the company that aim to increase diversity – for instance, a disability network, mental health network, LGBTQ+ network, women’s network and so on – and EDF is very supportive of these.
From what I’ve seen in terms of recruitment, EDF is very conscious of trying to ensure that we get a range of diverse people into the company. In my team there are people from all different backgrounds, and this makes it a brilliant environment to work in.
In data science, where the impact of our work is often on customers who come from a huge range of backgrounds, it’s even more important we have a diverse team. We need to reflect those same backgrounds to make sure we’re not introducing any bias into our products.
There are other things too, which open up EDF to being a more diverse company. We’re not strict to the 9-5 working pattern, for instance. So if you want to start and finish work earlier, we’re very open to that. I always make time at lunch to go out for a walk. My team also work remotely most of the time, which again, can help with work/life balance as you don’t have a commute to top and tail your day.
Then there are the other things EDF does that demonstrates its support for diversity and inclusion. For instance, on International Women’s Day this year, the women’s network held a face-to-face conference in London with external and internal speakers discussing how to increase gender diversity in organisations. There was also a virtual event for those who couldn't attend in person.
It was a fantastic day and I got the chance to network with other people and talk about issues that are important to me, like the gender pay gap. It really demonstrated how much EDF invests in diversity and inclusion amongst its people.