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The Power and Possibility of Intentionality

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In the latest installment of the EMEA Influential Women in Data webinar series, we welcomed Shirley Collie, Chief Health Analytics Actuary at Discovery Health to discuss everything from how the pandemic has impacted working, to the opportunities within data, and the importance of intentionality.

A data-driven organization

Shirley knows better than most about the impact that COVID 19 has had on the world. When the Omnicron variant was discovered in South Africa, her team – thanks to 20 plus years of public health data – were the only ones who were able to determine how effective the vaccine would be against the variant. “The pandemic has underscored just how important it is to share data in order to coordinate a response both at a local and global level.”

Data is critical to Discovery Health and underpins everything the company does. “We are a data driven company in every sense of the word. It’s imperative for us to be in order to fuel product development, manage the efficiency of healthcare delivery, negotiate with vendors and most importantly generate specific outcomes that benefit the patient.”

The future for data is bright

I asked Shirley what she felt the opportunities were that existed within data – and the good news is she felt the future was extremely bright.

Yuval Noah Harari said whoever owns the data, owns the future. And I have to say I agree. I see so many curious minded people looking to analyze data and apply their findings to real world problems. Their work is hugely valuable and I believe those working in data will have a positive and long lasting impact on the future of society.”

“Opportunities don’t often come without their challenges. Data is being generated in such large volumes across multiple channels and behind most of these interfaces sit algorithms that seem to know us better than we know ourselves. They are curating content presented to us – this can be good but also bad.

“The biggest challenge facing the data industry is that of ethics. What is right and what is wrong is extremely nuanced and changes over time.”

Data – its subjective

I went on to ask Shirley about the delicate dance of making sense of data: how in many ways data is indisputable, and yet it is highly interpretive. t. I was curious to understand how she approached that conundrum.

“People can see the same statistics, interpret them differently and come to their own unique conclusion. It’s therefore extremely important that as the experts we draw conclusions from the data and position the data to support our interpretation. Wrong conclusions can cause a lot of harm.

“We also need to be cognizant of the impact that a lack of diversity at senior level decision making can invalidate conclusions that are drawn and so it’s important for women to take and own their seat at the table.”

Career lessons

One area that we discussed in some depth was that of intentionality.

“Intentionality is a topic that is really close to my heart and I learnt about it by reading Clayton Christensen. It’s about being very aware that you need to think upfront about what you want to achieve at the different stages in your life. In my early twenties I wrote myself such a list and about two months ago I found it. It was very strange to read a letter to yourself from 20 years ago! I was delighted to see I had achieved many of the things I hoped that I would. If I hadn’t written them down, I don’t think that would have been the case.”

“It also reminded me that life and our circumstances change so that if I want to achieve the rest of the things on my list I might need to evolve my approach. But I am excited to think about what the next 20 years hold!”

Confidence is not linear

In preparing for the session, Shirley and I both agreed that such a session was waaaayyyyy out of our comfort zones. During the webinar I asked her about her thoughts on how we can harness confidence.

“Women tend to prize safety over ambition, but the truth is none of us will ever really grow unless we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Confidence is also not linear. You could be confident socially, but public speaking brings you out in hives. Often though what’s holding us back is the safety narrative going around our heads. To grow, we have to forge a new narrative.”

The session with Shirley was packed with more learnings and tips covering confidence, being our authentic selves, diversity in life sciences and more about her career. You can view the session here.

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