On Tuesday 11 October 2022, the International Statistics Institute celebrates it’s first annual ‘International Day for Women in Statistics and Data Science’. The event is designed to promote and celebrate women in statistics and data science and encourage further diversity in a profession where women are under-represented.
To mark this day, we interviewed Skevi Pericleous who works in Macroeconomic and Environment Statistics and Analysis (MESA) at the Office for National Statistics. Skevi has had an interesting and varied career which has seen her love for data grow from nothing, into a passion for statistics for the public good.
Skevi, thank you for helping us celebrate the inaugural ‘International Day for Women in Statistics and Data Science’. First of all, let’s start with a very broad question – What is it that you like about working in statistics?
I didn’t always like statistics, that’s for sure. When I was doing my A-levels, and stats was an A-level of its own then (I just revealed my age!) I didn’t enjoy it at all. When I went to university, I only chose statistics because I would have fewer exams at the end. That was it for me, I fell in love with it. Sometimes, you only need that one person to show you a different world and to empower you.
I love the methodology behind statistics and analysis; how we can explain parts of the world, capture some elements of the reality we live in, by making some simple or complex assumptions. That is so fascinating for me!
Can you tell me a little about your career journey?
My first roles were not in statistics. I was a maths teacher and a bank teller. My first work in statistics was lecturing statistics to undergrads and postgrads and doing methodological research. I soon found myself moving towards applied statistics, data analysis and data science, without realising it. I don’t even know myself when the change happened. I have analysed all sorts of datasets, from socioeconomics and geodemographic, to medical and actuarial, and I learnt something from each one of them.
I was very lucky to work in developing analytical capability across government with the Analysis Function and data science capability internationally with the Data Science Campus. I have also worked in Data Quality, Data Engineering & Architecture, and publishing Stats.
I don’t have what is called ‘linear career’ but I love doing different things and improving outputs and outcomes with the strengths I bring to each role, while developing myself in each area. In fact, I once found myself working in Human Resources at ONS, and learning so much in the HR space helped me become a better statistician, better data scientist, better analyst and I cannot thank enough everyone there for helping me develop.
Have you ever faced any barriers in your career, that arose from being a woman in a STEM career? How did you overcome them?
Unfortunately, I did. Not in the Civil Service though. It made me question my value and I had what we call “the imposter syndrome”. In these situations, I found that I personally needed emotional support to go through it and speak up. My husband was exactly that for me. I became stronger and happier and am now pleased to work in a much more inclusive environment.
You currently work in Macroeconomic and Environment Statistics and Analysis (MESA) at the ONS, can you break that down for me, what do you do in this role?
I’m leading a multi-disciplinary team that collaborates with lots of colleagues to produce Productivity outputs to inform decision-makers for the public good. “All roads lead to Productivity”, so changes to GDP and National Accounts, as well as the Labour Market, all have an impact on Productivity. What we do matters because Productivity is the main determinant of national living standards, and it is generally considered to be the only sustainable way of improving living standards in the long-term. It also impacts several other elements in the economy, including international competitiveness, wages, and inflation. There was a general slowdown in UK productivity growth post-2009. Other countries have seen similar slowdowns, but the UK experience was worse than other G7 countries. We have only been able to identify some of the possible causes of the UK slowdown, so we refer to it as the “productivity puzzle”.
What is it like to work at the ONS, compared to other kinds of environments you’ve worked in?
ONS is a fabulous place to work. The diversity of skills and the inclusivity we are always striving for is phenomenal. I am in MESA as we said before, which is an economics area and I’m not an economist. But so what? The Analysis Function (AF) guide on recruitment for cross-government analysts is to recruit profession-specific skills, only when these form a significant part of the role. For any other roles, the AF position is to recruit multi-disciplinary analysts to allow for more fluid movement of analysts and wider pool for opportunities across the function.
My Deputy Director is such a passionate economist, I really admire that, and he always supports and empowers me (It can’t get any better than that, can it?). My brilliant team has multi-disciplinary skills and I bring other strengths to the team and the directorate. When we tackle a problem, we are looking at it from different angles and to me it feels we complete the puzzle and that we fit well together. I absolutely love it!
My branch leads are a great team, they take care of each other and make sure that all of us in the team bring the best version of ourselves. It’s not just MESA, though, when I was in other ONS directorates and at UKHSA this was also true. I still talk to my colleagues there and we still support each other. The culture is amazing!
What is a lesson you’ve learnt in your career, that you still apply to your work today?
Be kind to people and try to understand where they are coming from. The wellbeing of everyone around me is my number one priority and I always give room for all opinions to be heard.
It seems like the field of statistics is ever-changing, what are some of the developments that have changed the way you work? What are some changes you’d like to see in the future?
The use of software engineering in stats has changed a lot. I was lucky to gain those skills in my career and they have helped me design more robust, trustworthy statistical systems that produce faster results. I think the combination of methodological statistics and software engineering has helped me a lot. For the future, I would like to see more of this happening. To be able to produce trustworthy statistics, is not just about the analysis; you need end-to-end seamless, robust, and relevant operations around, from data (acquiring and managing), systems, methods, to communication of results.
What is your dream role?
I’m not sure I have a dream role. But what I ultimately want is for my work to make a difference to the world. So, the Civil Service and ONS offer me exactly that. All my work is around producing evidence to inform decisions for the public good. It can’t get any better than that.
Do you have any advice for women who want to want to work in Statistics and Data Science?
Go for it! You will find incredible people that will support and empower you to get where you want and need as a person, and of course enjoy the ride! Statistics and Data Science are for everyone!