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Women in Data Science Geneva: The Inspiration and Success Behind the Chapter Founded by 3 Expedians

Written by Jenna Prescott | Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition

Léna Carel, Cat Mitchison and Florian Hatt are a part of Expedia Group’s Machine Learning Science team in our Geneva office. In 2021, Léna, Cat and Florian decided to set up a Women in Data Science Geneva chapter. Now with two successful events under their belts and a third one in the planning stages, I sat down with them to find out their why…    

Why did you all decide to set up WIDS (Women in Data Science) Geneva? 

Over two years ago, Expedia Group brought in Inclusion and Diversity OKRs (objectives and key results) to drive the diversity of the organization – we wanted an employee base as diverse as our customer base. Florian was familiar with Women in Data Science Zurich and thought it would be good to have the same in Geneva. Setting up this community would have long-term impact and not just be a short-term solution. At the time, we did not envision it would grow this much!   

A great decision – how was it to set up the Geneva Chapter and organize the two events so far? 

Communication with WIDS global to set up the Geneva chapter was straight-forward. They sent a ‘WIDS in box’ kit to get you started, then it is up to you to organize the events. Our first time organizing an event had its challenges, especially as it was during Covid so there was a lot of uncertainty on if it could be in person or not.   

It was also quite complicated to find speakers for the first year. Cat trawled LinkedIn and ‘cold messaged’ people. However, in the second year we ended up with too many speakers for the time slots we had! This is why we introduced the workshops which were a hit with the audience. We wanted to choose topics so there was something for everyone – some should be more technical than others, and they should explore different areas of Data Science – engineering, business, academia. The workshops allowed the audience to choose a different, smaller session based on their interests.  

What was your biggest learning from the speakers at this year’s conference? 

Cat: All the speakers exceeded expectations! But the one I was really excited about was Roxana Pamfil. She did a tour of causality and machine learning. As this is something we are working on in our team, I loved the way she summarized a vast subject area in an interesting way. 

Florian: I’d agree with Cat about Roxana – here it’s a good example for us since the subject Roxana presented, Causality, is the core of most of the models developed in our team for EG.

Léna: I really enjoyed all the talks I attended, but I specifically loved the talk from Nadya Chernyavskaya about Graph Neural Networks. She gave a complete and easy-to-follow presentation on the topic.

What about the event brought you joy? 

Léna: During the event and through networking, so many people came to Cat and I saying they enjoyed the conference. It felt as though I was at my wedding and people were congratulating me and Cat. People were hungry for these learnings. 

Cat: We knew that everything went smoothly, but we got feedback from both speakers and the audience that it was a professional event – which was largely thanks to the venue – and that we had chosen amazing speakers. People who came both years were floored by the improvement in the event planning! I also loved discussing with the speakers afterwards; they had never presented to such a kind audience. They had a real “bieveillance” as they say in French.

What is the plan for 2024’s event? 

The plan is to grow audience to 150 people which would be an increase of 50% from this year’s event! We are in the planning stage right now… It’s important we lock in sponsorship quickly to enable the planning. 

We have already opened the call for proposals and are excited to see who applies!  

If you could have anyone speak at next year’s event, who would you chose and why? 

Cat: I’d love to hear from Cathy O’Neil, who authored “Weapons of Math Destruction”, as someone with an interesting point of view, mixed with a mix of philosophy and tech, and who thinks deeply about the use of data generally and lately, AI.

Léna: I think it would be great to have Timnit Gebru presenting on her work about ethical AI. 

If you want to find out more about the Women in Data Science Conference 2023 check out the event recap video below. Expedia Group is excited for the WIDS Geneva team to announce what they have planned for 2024, and will be proud to sponsor this amazing initiative once again! 

Expedia Group | Careers