True North Tech Series: The Future Is Female

The vast majority of people making the decisions that will determine our future – in technology and beyond – are men, which means the unique insights and skills of nearly half of the global population are being left out of the equation. From solution design to data-driven decision-making, there aren't enough women authoring our future.

We sat down with North Highland Business Analyst Prasanthi Duddu, who has spent the last six years infusing her perspective into statistical storytelling, to learn more about the challenges and opportunities for women in tech today.

Q: Why did you decide to enter the technology field?

A: As a child, I was always drawn to problem-solving. I also had a passion for numbers. Though I studied electronics as an undergrad, I started my technology career in data and analytics, which allowed me to blend numbers and creative problem-solving in new ways. I realized very quickly how writing a small code or bringing out the numbers through visualizations or analysis resulted in real impact and influenced decision-making at a very macro level.

Today my career is more exciting than I could have ever imagined, with new advances in AI and machine learning. These technologies are opening new avenues for problem-solving, and they motivate me to learn something each day.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced as a woman in the technology field?

A: Most of the challenges come down to underrepresentation of women in the field. More than 30 percent of public company tech boards have no women at all, compared with 78 percent of Russell 3000 companies that have at least one woman on their boards.

When you’re the only women in the room, it’s (sadly) natural to underestimate your skills and feel a lack of confidence. One of my favorite books, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, validates that I’m not alone. Sandberg describes this experience as the "impostor syndrome", and many of the women I have spoken to on this subject have acknowledged feeling this at least to some degree.

My tip to women in tech? Find a mentor. Be it someone from your workplace or your personal community, find someone who can guide you, motivate you, and help you progress, even in the face of challenge. I have been very fortunate to have had some amazing female (and male!) managers, colleagues, and family members who have served as a critical support system and helped me build confidence, take risks, and grow in this field.

Q: Can you share a time when your unique perspective drove project success?

A: When I joined North Highland, I was brought on to develop analytical dashboards for a public sector agency in Florida that provides social services to children, adults, domestic violence victims, and human trafficking victims. Very quickly, the purpose of the project went beyond hard numbers for me and I became deeply and emotionally connected to the stories those statistics told.

The stories were about the number of children impacted, their challenges, and how agency dollars were being used to create new opportunities. They demonstrated the scale of human trafficking and domestic abuse cases. And armed with empathy and understanding, I was able to design dashboards that brought those stories to life for decision-makers.

I acutely understood how my analytics and visualizations can impact those making decisions to fund these children and provide them new opportunities. That emotional connection propels me to give more of my heart and soul to ensure that my analytics have the right impact and lead to better recommendations and solutions for these children.

Q: What are some of the advantages of being a woman in the technology field?

A: It’s not always easy being the only woman and it can be lonely, but I take great pride in knowing that my perspective can spur better innovation, more creative outputs, and solutions with less bias.

And those things ultimately drive profits. A 2016 assessment of 22,000 global firms found that going from having no women in corporate leadership to a 30 percent female share is associated with a one-percentage-point increase in net margin – which translates to a 15 percent increase in profitability for a typical firm.

Q: What advice would you offer women who are interested in pursuing technology careers?

A: Women make up approximately half of the world’s population, yet we’ve been woefully underrepresented in how technology is designed. From a purely commercial standpoint, I believe there are huge opportunities for companies that tap into a more diverse perspective in technology design. Take pride in that potential and in your unique perspective. Don’t follow the herd, be a maverick and be true to yourself (while taking all the best practices you can from women like Sandberg and Marissa Mayer).

Q: What are your goals and aspirations over the next five years?

A: I’d like to continue to learn more, strive for meaningful impact with my visualizations, provide great recommendations through analysis, get more involved with volunteer activities (both at North Highland and in my free time), have a fulfilling married life, and become a parent. I’d also love to study public policy to better understand how technology can help solve macro problems. Ultimately I’m hoping to take a three-month sabbatical in Africa to understand this market from a technological demand/need perspective and sponsor a girl’s education.