On February 10, we recognized the 8th annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to adopt this day as an annual observance to promote the full and equal access and participation of females in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. The objective is to promote participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
In recognition of this important day, we are profiling one of our own female leaders in STEM. Angel Yau-Vandenburg, Chief Data & Technology Officer with Équité Association is a seasoned technology leader in Canada. With more than 20 years of experience in fraud and risk management, strategy and analytics, she has led key initiatives that proactively detect and prevent insurance crimes.
Angel leads the data and technology team using advanced analytics to detect fraud through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).This year, the team is finalizing the build of a national fraud detection system using AI, a first for property and casualty (P&C) insurers.
Can you tell us about your background and your career journey and how these prepared you for your role as Chief Data & Technology Officer at Équité Association?
AY: My education provided a good foundation for me to pursue a role in technology. I completed my Bachelor of Science with a specialization in statistics and management science at the University of Alberta, completed my Masters of Science in Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Guelph, and secured a job as a statistician with a business management-consulting firm.
Several years later, I transitioned to a career in finance with a large national bank. This is where I built my career in fraud management and mitigation, statistical modelling and analysis and computer programming. I also developed my leadership skills by taking on increasingly senior and challenging roles.
Prior to joining Équité, I led the implementation of a suite of advanced analytics, along with third party technology solutions to proactively detect and prevent financial and insurance crimes. I also successfully led a team in developing and implementing data driven identification of fraud through advanced analytics.
Broadly speaking, as CTO, I lead Équité’s technical strategy and mitigation of technological issues. The role includes everything from developing a technology vision and strategy, to architecture, innovation, software development, and infrastructure.
Currently, I lead a team of 20 data, cloud, infrastructure, and cyber security professionals in the build of Canada’s first consortium-based national fraud detection system and analytics solution – ÉQ Insights. This will be a game-changer in the insurance fraud detection and prevention landscape moving the industry to a ‘predict and prevent’ model. It’s an exciting project and one about which I’m passionate.
I recently read that there are over 23,885 chief technology officers currently employed in the United States and only 8.4% of these women, while 91.6% are men. Why do you think there are fewer women pursuing careers in science and technology?
AY: A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world. Despite women making tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in these fields.
Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, half of its potential, but we still face many barriers. For example, a lack of female role models, cultures that tend to exclude women from pursuing STEM-focused education, and persistent stereotypes about women's intellectual abilities, all reinforce a wide gender gap.
There’s also a pervasive masculine culture that discourages women from participating. While the landscape is changing, we need to do our part to mentor and promote not only women, but women from all diversity and cultures, particularly in Canada, where we are so multicultural. I believe that diversity of thought and experiences makes us better organizations and better businesses.
What advice do you have for young women who are considering pursuing careers in STEM?
AY: First, try to get practical experience early on — do projects, tinker, build prototypes, test new technologies, and spend time working both in a group and by yourself. Don’t wait for a degree or a job to carve out a path for you. Take your future in your own hands and engineer a career for yourself. Look for role models to help you along the way and incubators that can propel you forward and grow your network. Don’t be afraid to take up space. Share your ideas loudly and broadly. There are so many more programs in today’s landscape that encourage non-linear learning methods.
When applying for roles, look for an organization that has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion and gender equity. This has been important to me in my own career. Here at Équité, we have achieved gender parity at the senior and executive leadership levels, as well as on our board of directors. We also have a female President and CEO and a female Chief Information Security Officer, and we believe in promoting women into their most senior roles.
Most importantly, if you are passionate about working in STEM, stay focused on pursuing your passion. As companies look to the future, they are adopting hiring strategies that are focused on diversity and inclusion. The landscape is changing and there are more opportunities opening up for high-performing, qualified women.