Women in Data Science Events: Inspiring Others to Achieve the Improbable

At more than 35 SAP-hosted Women in Data Science events worldwide, female researchers and SAP experts talk about creating a better future — on this planet and beyond.

Adriana Marais

“The distance between the dream and the reality is shorter than ever before.” Why? Because technology is progressing at an unprecedented rate, says Dr. Adriana Marais, head of Innovation for SAP Africa and one of the 100 finalists selected for the “Mars One” mission, which seeks to establish a human colony on Mars.

The ability of humans to build technologies to collect, store, and analyze data has led to the emergence of the field known as “data science” and enables us to do things that have never been done before.

“We are living in the most interesting period in the history of life on earth,” says Marais. “We have developed the capabilities to propose the most ambitious projects ever – to send the first crews to our next-door neighbor, planet Mars.”

Adriana Marais held the keynote at the “Women in Data Science” event in Walldorf, Germany, on March 5. Watch the full keynote here.

Besides her personal excitement about her projected journey into the unknown, Marais is convinced that one important aspect of space exploration is inspiration. “During the Apollo era, an unprecedented number of postgraduate students enrolled in STEM subjects,” she says. Research shows that the same cohort of students can be correlated with the emergence of technologies like the cell phone, the personal computer, and the internet. Seeing humans achieve the improbable can inspire individuals to work hard toward doing the same, she says: “If we see humans living on another planet, will we ever believe that anything is impossible again?”

Women in Data Science: A Conference Becomes a Movement

The Global Women in Data Science (WiDS) Conference aims to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, and support women in the field. As a global visionary sponsor of the Stanford WiDS conference, SAP Next-Gen is proud to host more than 35 global events to advance women in data science.

Starting in New York and continuing through March in locations all over the world, these events bring together academics, startups, accelerators, purpose partners, and experts from SAP and partners in the global SAP Next-Gen community. Through keynotes and panel discussions, participants hear how they can join a global movement to foster the next-generation data scientists worldwide and support women using data science to drive purposeful outcomes linked to the 17 UN Global Goals.

“We are proud to partner with Stanford’s WiDS conference to drive a movement that aims to inspire and enable the next generation of female data scientists,” shared Ann Rosenberg, senior vice president and global head of SAP Next-Gen. “The incredible conference Stanford puts together is something that we wanted everybody to be allowed to be part of. Together with the mission Stanford has to empower next-generation women data scientists,that is where the #sheinnovates program was developed. In 2017, my team hosted 24 satellite events in 20 countries, and this year we are hosting 35 events in 22 countries. You have women in those cities who can come to those events and be inspired by local leaders, local role models, local women, and you can listen to the incredible speakers of women in data science.”


A global initiative supporting the UN Women Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC), the #sheinnovates movement was launched at Davos and accelerated at Mobile World Congress to advance STEM education, innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities for women and girls.

SAP Next-Gen continued the momentum behind #sheinnovates with the UN Woman & Innovation Norway – International Women’s Day Celebration on March 8 in New York. The event featured Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, who shared why female founders and disruptive technology are key drivers toward gender equality and financial inclusion.

At SXSW 2018, SAP Next-Gen partnered with UN Women to expand awareness and accelerate engagement around the UN Women GICC goals to drive industry-wide action to make innovation and technology work better for young women and girls.

Join the movement and follow us on twitter using the hashtags #WiDS2018 and #sheinnovates.

Inspiring Women Ambassadors

“Global Women in Data Science is like the Women’s March for analytics,” claims a recent Forbes article. But is it true that women still need to march in the year 2018? Yes, although we did not expect this to be the case, was the unanimous answer of the “Inspiring Women Ambassadors” panel at the Walldorf event.

Hala Zeine

Hala Zeine, chief business development officer at SAP, recalls: “When I grew up, I saw a lot of inspiring women on television, like Margret Thatcher leading the UK and Hanan Ashrawi conducting the peace negotiations in the Middle East. And I thought to myself, one day this will be the norm. Unfortunately, we’re in a different place right now. We should not rest until the last woman in the last corner of this earth has been given equal rights.”

However, discrimination or bias is not always easy to fight — or even to detect, as research shows. The average CEO, for instance, is about two and a half inches taller than the average male. This is just one example of how the world is shaped by discriminating actions that are based on a stereotype, even if that stereotype does not stem from prejudice. In other words, most people don’t consciously decide, “I want a tall CEO.” Citing this example, Professor Nicola Marsden from the University of Heilbronn made the case for design changes in processes such as recruitment to eliminate implicit bias.

Gender quotas were seen by most panelists as a useful tool for forcing decision-makers to look harder in all directions. “I really like quotas,” said Zeine. “What is the danger of having them? I will prove my worth, and if we get a few women who don’t, then what is the harm, there are also men who don’t prove their worth.”

Professor Jivka Ovtcharova, head of the Institute for Information Management in Engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, is not an advocate of quotas: “This discussion starts with equal opportunities in education. It’s then about equal opportunities in applying for a job. In traditional industries, presence is very important, which puts people with young families at a disadvantage. Therefore, it’s very important for organizations to be more flexible and adaptable.”

Eliminating bias and discrimination has a much wider significance too. “In order to solve the massive challenges we face on this planet,” said Adriana Marais, “we need each and every one of us to achieve our maximum potential. We need to really live the future we want to see, which means being completely agnostic as to any kind of category or prejudice or stereotype that we would like to box someone into, and that’s of course irrespective of gender, race, background, or whatever.”

SAP Next-Gen has also launched the SAP Next-Gen Advisors initiative to connect experts in the SAP ecosystem to next-generation social entrepreneurs, developers, data scientists, makers, and tech founders in order to foster innovation with purpose linked to the 17 UN Global Goals while adopting the latest SAP technologies.

A diverse team of advisors — including SAP executives, serial entrepreneurs, product development experts, and venture capitalists with experience across industries and spanning startups to large corporations — will mentor students and graduates transitioning to professionals, sharing insights on business model innovation, investor pitching, sales and marketing, and commercialization. Advisors will connect with young entrepreneurs both personally and virtually to accelerate their startup business models.

Through the program, customers and stakeholders in the global SAP Next-Gen network will have new opportunities to connect with and mentor rising social entrepreneurs at universities, scout top entrepreneurial talent, and seed in disruptive “innovation with purpose” together with startups.

SAP Next-Gen Advisors programs are planned globally. The kick-off event for the first cohort took place in Munich, Germany, on March 8, to coincide with #sheinnovates and International Women’s Day. Female tech founders can apply for a mentoring program and benefit from hands-on workshops and expert sessions spread out over a period of six months. Teams based in Germany can apply until April 7 via the SAP Germany startup website.