In this blog series to commemorate National Mentoring Month, we are celebrating some of our incredible mentors in the Data Science for All program.
Marseta Dillis Deputy Chief Data Officer at the Federal Aviation Administration, and a mentor forDS4A / Empowerment. She answered a few questions for us about her experience, career advice and creating more inclusive workplaces.
Tell us about a pivotal moment in your career: what was the backdrop, what did you do, what did you learn?
The most pivotal moment for me was establishing a new division within an organization; it was a challenging and rewarding experience. It gave me the opportunity to create a vision and define the group’s core services with input from the team and other stakeholders. I learned that being effective starts with knowing the needs of your organization. Taking the time to examine pain points and identify best practices and core processes that could benefit from standardization, creates a space to make a difference.
Who were your mentors and role models when you were starting out? What’s the best professional advice you received?
In seeking out a mentor, I looked for leaders who were technically strong, known for delivering results, and/or respected by their peers. The best advice that I received was find your niche. I share this advice with anyone early in their career. It gives you an opportunity to set yourself apart by becoming the go-to person. When I took on new assignments, I made it a point to learn as much as I could about the subject, processes, and tools needed. When questions came my way, I was more than capable of addressing them and, in some cases, became the subject matter expert.
What have you gained from mentoring and coaching - both professionally and personally? Did anything surprise you when you started mentoring?
Knowing that so many people helped me along the way, having the opportunity to do the same for someone else was a given. In my conversations with mentee(s), my goal is to give sound advice and to provide perspective on the situation. Over time, our conversations spilled over into topics other than work. It was less about the do’s and don’ts in the workplace but more about getting to know them and being supportive.
Can you give us an example of how data skills are increasingly needed in your role and business?
Within my organization, we promote a data-driven culture. We want a workforce that treats data as an enterprise asset that can be leveraged to address business challenges, spur innovation, and optimize our business processes, along with the help of automation. As more data becomes accessible, we need people who have the ability to transform and infuse data where it’s lacking or needed to inform our decisions.
You’ll be mentoring a group of Fellows in our inaugural cohort in the Data Science for All/Empowerment program, an initiative to create equal opportunities to access the data-driven jobs of tomorrow. What can individuals and organizations do to help create more diverse and inclusive workplaces?
My recommendation is to be intentional about creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. I would offer two pieces of advice:
Cast a wider net when recruiting talent. As a graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), I know firsthand the struggles of talented individuals looking for an opportunity. There is talent at every college, and programs like Data Science for All can help with your diversity and inclusion goals. Ensuring that opportunities are shared with schools who have diverse populations can help attract applicants.
Create a supportive environment. Creating a space for newcomers to feel welcome and to learn various aspects of the company culture and structure is important. Mentorship programs, employee associations, and social activities can help with that transition. At the end of the day, our differences bring perspective and new ideas. Embracing that inside and outside of work makes us better people.