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Dr. Helia Mohammadi

Chief Data Scientist, Healthcare Industry Lead, Microsoft Canada

In my current role at Microsoft, I focus on empowering health care professionals and researchers with the technology they need to improve outcomes, whether in clinical or health and life sciences. This means I am constantly learning about new technologies or solving challenges that help health care organizations improve care. It is rewarding, but it was not an easy path to get here. I can speak firsthand to the challenges that women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) face. And now that I am here, I am passionate about helping pave the way for other women to enter (and stay!) in careers in STEM fields.

One way to create more pathways for women to enter STEM-focused areas is to engage and educate all genders, not just women. Events and job fairs specifically designed for women in STEM can go a long way towards raising awareness and educating around the biases (both conscious and unconscious) that some women face every day. But if these initiatives only bring together groups of women who are already well versed on the issues, then it is pushing at an open door. All genders need to be in the room if we are going to break through to realize positive change. We need to educate all leadership, hiring managers and decision-makers to recognize the gender gaps that exist so they can extend their support.

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All genders need to be in the room if we are going to break through to realize positive change.

This also extends into the power of mentorship. If leaders allocate their time to mentor young women, it can help break the cycle of dropout that we typically see at the graduate study and director levels. I had many mentors throughout my career who have supported me as a woman in tech and also a woman of colour. During challenging times, these dedicated mentors helped me move forward by focusing on goals rather than roadblocks and this guidance stayed with me throughout my career.

Finally, we need to foster a “learn-it-all” mentality as opposed to a “know-it-all” mindset. This means encouraging self-learning and fostering an open mindset to reward individuals for taking on new challenges that are out of their comfort zone. The world is changing at a rapid pace. We all must be learning all the time, even at senior levels, so I encourage young girls and women to ask questions, build their professional networks and portfolios, and expand their skillset. In addition, I invite leaders and mentors from all genders to support the courageous and curious women who want to succeed and more importantly learn.

At Microsoft, we call this leading with a growth mindset, where stretching outside your comfort zone is not only welcome but also encouraged. This gives employees a certain level of freedom to define their role and focus on what excites them. Designing and leading a team to deliver the Research Centre of Excellence on Cloud offering, a framework that I developed employing the same mindset, excites me as it is empowering the research and life sciences community to solve existing challenges and accelerate innovation. We need to embrace this approach to make room for the next generation of professionals in tech who are going to make the next innovative discovery, that could help researchers cure cancer or reimagine health care through AI and precision medicine.

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