Madlen Ivanova, an alumna of the School of Data Science at UNC Charlotte with a master’s degree in data science and business analytics, is a true representation of female leadership within her industry.
Since earning her degree, Madlen has become an ambassador of Women in Data Science for the Charlotte region. WiDS originated at Stanford University as a technical conference in 2015 based on the themes of featuring bright women in the field, celebrating progress, and building awareness of the key challenges women in data science face regularly. What began as a one-day conference has since developed into a movement of over 200 events in more than 60 countries worldwide. It aims to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, and to support women in the field. The women who created WiDS and support every event are Margot Gerritsen (senior associate dean and WiDS co-director, Stanford University), Judy Logan (WiDS co-director, Stanford University) and Karren Matthys (executive director, external partners and WiDS co-director, Stanford University). Madlen said, “I had the pleasure of meeting them all at the ambassador meetings and the Stanford conference, and I can tell you they are truly inspiring!”
Madi was first drawn to creating a chapter of WiDS in the Charlotte region based on her curiosity and observing a lack in workplace diversity. “I noticed there were not many women in the field and application pipeline. When I started asking questions, I quickly realized that every company has this diversity problem, and it is not something that one company can solve on its own nor is it specific to any one industry,” she said. Madlen found it unusual that women in the United States aren’t often attracted to working in the tech industry, as this divide does not exist in her home country of Bulgaria. Girls are taught coding and programming as early as the first grade there. Her observation of this drastic difference in cultures inspired her to find a solution toward preparing newer generations for the technologies of the future. Thus, the Charlotte chapter of WiDS was born.
Madlen plays a crucial role as a WiDS ambassador by managing the relationship between WiDS at Stanford and UNC Charlotte. Specifically, Charlotte’s School of Data Science is hosting the annual WiDS Conference on March 15, 2022. Madi oversees the agenda’s requirements while recruiting sponsors, speakers and community support. It is difficult for young professionals to know exactly what is expected of them in the industry, and what type of Machine Learning areas must be mastered for their chosen career path.
In regard to the conference, Madi said, “This type of event plays a significant role for young professionals to help them connect the dots and empower them with ideas and perspectives on many different topics such as navigating their careers, choosing technologies to focus on learning, finding the area in Machine Learning that is most exciting for them, and identifying technical and soft skills they need to master.” Students leave the conference with a firmer understanding of how to choose the right industry and make a great impression during interviews, ultimately positioning them for success.
As the senior manager of data science at Lowe’s, Madlen has gotten her company deeply involved in the Women in Data Science Conference. New to the company, Madi pitched the idea of managing the conference to her leaders, who were very receptive and agreed to sponsor the event. By networking with Doug Hague, the executive director of the School of Data Science, she recruited the help of her alma mater to target young professionals.
Plot twist: The conference was actually planned in only three weeks! Madi pitched the idea in February, and WiDS of Stanford recommended scheduling the conference in March. After many sleepless nights spent finding speakers, catering, a photographer, videographer, a venue, and creating a website, banners, marketing materials, badges, the agenda and event flow, and marketing it to the community all while working her full-time job, the conference was a huge success. This will be the fifth consecutive year with Lowe’s as the title sponsor.
Madlen sees the importance of diversity in the workplace, especially as a leader of her team at Lowe’s as the senior manager of data science. The company emphasizes inclusivity of different genders, cultures, ages, ethnicities and educational training for employees. Madlen enforces a leadership style where people feel free to express opinions and are open to learn from one another, as data science is an ever-evolving industry and requires constant learning and development. She describes herself as fortunate to lead a research team of extremely talented individuals who work collectively while also contributing his or her unique perspective. She believes this is the key to building smart technologies of the future.