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Fatimazahra Imami - Senior Data Scientist at Rexel

19 Dec 2023 13:38 | Anonymous

Meet Fatimazahra Imami, Senior Data Scientist at Rexel. In her interview, she tells us about how she worked her way up in data science, the importance of self-confidence and speaking up for yourself, inspiring books and more.

Interviewed by Josefine Häussling Löwgren

You studied data science at the INTP In Morocco, as well as the IMT Atlantique in France. What made you go on this path and what made you get into data science?

Data science is not a field that I initially chose. In high school, I had a background in computer science, and always loved problem solving. I studied for at an engineering school in Morocco for two years, before applying for a double degree here in France. Seeing that the field of study of data science was an option within the engineering school, I started to research it and learned that it's a cross-section between multiple different sectors - it's business, statistics, visualisation, and computer science. I realised that data science is the bridge between business and technology, providing the answer to business problems and enabling them to make better decisions. For example, it can help make sense of customers record and website traffic data. Data science is the key to unlocking valuable information that can drive better decision-making for your business as well as for your life, and for society. This makes it a field that is becoming increasingly important in recent years, especially with the development of generative AI.

Data science is the key to unlocking valuable information that can drive better decision-making.

You're currently Senior Data Scientist at Rexel. Could you tell us a bit more about what your day-to-day kind of routine is like? What are you most passionate about within the field of data science and in your role?

My job involves finding hidden patterns in data and unlocking valuable information, to help the business to make better decisions. I've learned a lot during my three years, building complex AI problems and handling complex data. I use this knowledge in collaboration with my team, to understand what the business needs and try to create AI solutions that will answer these needs.

What I am most passionate about is that I get to work with people from different backgrounds, as I work with people from the business side who do not necessarily have a background in data science or technical fields. This means that you need to actively listen and try to understand the issue that they are facing in order to translate it into a data problem. This involves building an AI algorithm or solution, finding the right metrics and KPIs that you will share with the business and striving to simplify it for them so that everyone is aligned on the solution you propose. It's a team effort where you create something from raw data, which would have been impossible even 20 years ago.

You recently got promoted to Senior Data Scientist after having worked at Rexel for three years. What challenges did you have to overcome in your career to get to this point? Is there any advice that you would give to young women pursuing a similar trajectory?

I am lucky enough to be part of a company that really supports its employees and gives them opportunities to evolve, so I have not faced any external challenges or barriers from them. I believe for women, sometimes the barriers come from within. When impostor syndrome kicks in, we do not raise our voices and speak up for ourselves. I would say that the biggest lesson that I have learned on my career journey is that we need to advocate for ourselves and be self-aware. This does not necessarily mean speaking for the sake of speaking, it means finding your moment, and grabbing the opportunities that align with your values. Even if you do the most amazing work, if no one knows about it, no one is going to stand up for you. I think it’s important to have people supporting you, because it is often said that the biggest decisions about your career are made when you are not in the room, which is why it’s important for people to hear about what you’ve done and advocate for you. I also believe that the importance of being prepared is not spoken about enough. Even the most confident person or the bravest public speaker will faulter if they have not prepared for a presentation in front of an audience, as it will be seen.

The final piece of advice that has helped me over the years is that a situation is never as bad as we imagine in our heads.  It’s easy to think about negative perceptions people may have of us but these are almost always false. Just stay focused on your mission and purpose, be prepared, and realise that the learning process never stops. As women we rarely praise ourselves, so I think it’s important to take the time to say, “I'm good at what I do, and I deserve what I have now.”

Take the time to say, “I'm good at what I do, and I deserve what I have now.”

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I am proud of the way I handle my everyday work. In comparison to three years ago, I am now a person who can enjoy the small things in life, like having a great conversation with my colleague, or having a cup of coffee on a sunny day. I think that life, including professional life, happens in the small moments. If you are just waiting for the breakthrough moments to celebrate, you will be missing out on a lot. Enjoy the process, enjoy the journey. I don't dread waking up every morning and coming to work, I enjoy my work and I enjoy the challenges I face. So, I would say that the way I live my professional life now is much better than three years ago, which is something I'm really proud of.

I think that life, as well as professional life, happens in the small moments.

You are currently a Talent in the 8th edition of the Women’s Talent Pool Programme. How do you feel the programme is helping you to achieve your leadership objectives?

One of the great things about the WTP Programme is that it's a safe space where you can ask questions. The fact that I can relate to my fellow Talents who have had similar experiences and hear from inspiring role models has really helped me. It helps me in speaking up for myself and overcoming my worries and insecurities. Networking opportunities like the Annual Gathering have been the most impactful experiences from the programme because you get to meet people from different professional backgrounds, giving you diverse perspectives.

This year, you shared on LinkedIn that you read the book “Invisible Women” By Caroline Criado Perez and how it deeply resonated with you as a data scientist. Could you elaborate on what this book teaches regarding data science and what you learnt from it? Are there any other books that you would recommend?

The book was amazing because it was full of case studies and statistics. It had a solid foundation that no one can argue with. Sometimes my male colleagues will say there is no problem regarding gender equality because we are getting the same salary. But if we look at the bigger picture, we can see that there are less women than men in leadership positions. The author argues that when workplaces were designed, women were not involved in that process, which does not mean that men locked themselves in a meeting room, trying to make women's lives miserable; it just means that they couldn’t assess the consequences of what they were building.

Women need to be included in all the decision-making processes as they will be impacted by them. That's why the book resonated with me, because in AI and data science, we need to keep in mind that AI solutions reflect the data on which they were trained. This means that if I train the model on bias data, it's going to produce bias results and impact people using this solution. Therefore, whatever we create based on AI needs to be inclusive, which is why we need more female scientists and more scientists coming from minority communities.

Whatever we create based on AI needs to be inclusive, which is why we need more female scientists and more scientists coming from minority communities.

Regarding the topic of gender, I also read the book “Lean in” by Sheryl Sandberg, It really resonated with me when she said that women are constantly asked about when the right time is to have children. I have noticed this same question came up at events I have been to with senior women and found it frustrating. Sheryl said that women start looking for the exit, even before entering. For example, I am 28 years old, and maybe I'm not planning on having children for the next five years. But still, it's something that is burdening me because I think this is going to block my career. She said that you don't need to think that much about it. Don't look for the exits, because maybe it's going to impact your choice of company and your career growth, even if it's not something happening in the near future.

I also love the writing style of Malcolm Gladwell. Maybe you don’t agree with the way he puts things or his ideas. But I think he’s a gifted storyteller, you get really absorbed when you read his books. For “The Making of a Manager ” is a great book. It doesn’t give you academic tips on how to be a manager, but uses the example of a woman working at Facebook, who got into a leadership position when she was very young and she describes how her colleagues, or former colleagues now reporting to her, were treating her. It shares an inspiring message for women who are looking to pursue leadership positions, especially at the beginning of their careers.

Video edited by Claudia Heard

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