Analytics at Wharton
Career Advice from Women in Data Science
When Michelle Peluso, W’93, was a young woman working as White House Fellow under U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, she found herself awkwardly killing time with her boss at an airport because their flight was delayed.
After getting coffee and persuading Herman to buy new sunglasses from a shop in the terminal, Peluso ran out of ideas. That’s when she asked Herman for career advice about what makes a good cabinet secretary. And that’s when the conversation got real.
At the White House, every morning began with a crisis. But Herman told Peluso that the mark of good leadership is to chart a bold agenda that sees beyond daily crisis management to accomplish a long-term vision.
“That’s always stuck with me because I think as a leader there are so many things that cross your plate every day. You have to have the people around you and the capacity to think about what makes a difference,” said Peluso.
Now, it’s Peluso’s turn to dispense valuable advice from her own 25-year career that has spanned the data science universe, from travel to finance to health care. She’s currently the executive vice president, chief customer officer, and co-president of retail at CVS Health.
“My success is absolutely based on working with exceptional people,” she said. “The thing that motivates me endlessly is the chance to work with people who are better than me, smarter than me, and have great ideas.”
Peluso was the keynote speaker for the recent Women in Data Science (WiDS) @ Penn Conference, which welcomed academic, industry, and student speakers from across the data science landscape. She implored the student participants to choose their data science careers wisely and behave ethically.
“You will write the code of the future,” she said. “Are we coding things that keep the mistakes of the past front and center? Are our algorithms fair and unbiased? The future is yours to write, and this country needs you to write one that is more equitable, more accessible for all.”
WiDS @ Penn asked Peluso and several other featured speakers to share their best career advice. Keep reading below for their wise words of encouragement.
Michelle Peluso, W’93
Executive Vice President, Chief Customer Officer, and Co-President of Retail
Continuously evaluate how you are using your time, talents, and team members, then reprioritize accordingly. Don’t be afraid to pivot or take on something new. And remember, risks don’t always end in reward.
Be obsessively consumer-centric.
The consumer is Peluso’s “north star” that she uses to guide her through data-driven decisions. She said consumer centricity has become her personal brand and shapes her leadership perspective, which helps her team know exactly what to expect and where to focus.
Have grit and grace.
These are the words by which Peluso lives and works. They are so meaningful that she gave her daughter the middle name Grace. It’s the mantra that led her through hard months after Sept. 11, 2001, when she was running a digital travel business near Ground Zero and bookings evaporated. “We had to be agile learners, we had to take care of each other, we had to listen with empathy, we had to course correct when we were wrong,” she said. “Grit and grace have always been really important to me as a leader. I believe you have to have both to be really good at leadership.”
Make the workplace more inclusive.
Peluso said she believes that organizational efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion should start with people who are in the majority, because they hold the power. “If we believe diversity and inclusion creates better business results — and there are countless studies on this topic — then it has to become a business imperative and a priority, and it has to be on the backs of the people who are in positions of privilege.”
Set your priorities.
Can women have it all? Peluso’s answer depends on the definition of “all.” It’s helpful to set priorities that make it easier to navigate the line between work and home. As a mom, Peluso never misses certain events, including parent-teacher conferences, recitals, games, doctor appointments, and dinner at the table when she isn’t traveling for work. “If you [set priorities] and you take a long view, you can absolutely have it all. But that doesn’t come without tough days, tough weeks, tough months.”
Watch Keynote Address
Senior Vice President of Digital Products and Services at PepsiCo
1. Relationships are invaluable.
It’s important to nurture relationships from the start and make sure they’re mutually beneficial. Set up your support groups, work hard to learn from them, and add your value to them.
2. Take risks to differentiate yourself.
This requires embracing a growth mindset. It’s important to invest in it, articulate it, and demonstrate it.
3. Effective communication is paramount.
Everything we do is based on communication, so be effective and precise to get your story across. Doing so will help you influence your stakeholders and allow you to negotiate meaningful impact in all that you do.
Victoria Lewis-Bogatyrenko, WG’94
Senior Vice President at UnitedHealth Networks
1. Bet on yourself.
Have confidence in who you are, choose the work that ignites your passions, and don’t hesitate to take on unchartered challenges. New opportunities are where you grow the most.
2. Invest in mentorship and allyship.
Grow and use your network, be both intentional and informal, and remember that networking after a layoff can be incredibly energizing. “If your network is strong, both the formal one and the informal one, those connections lead to new connections and new opportunities to explore where your career might take you,” said Lewis-Bogatyrenko, who said she was laid off early in her career.
3. The juggle is real.
Work-life balance is critical. Call on your own cavalry of experts, ask for what you need at work, and don’t opt out of career opportunities because it means restructuring your “home team.”
Senior Vice President of Retail Strategy and Experience at Petco
1. Be open.
Don’t be afraid of new opportunities. Listening, learning, and asking questions of people at every level will help you formulate great ideas and strategies for both your current job and long-term career goals.
2. Believe in yourself.
Wolski admits that it’s not easy. Everybody questions their decisions and their role in an organization. “But sometimes you have to fake it till you make it,” she said. “Start by talking to yourself like you would talk to your best friend and keep it up until you start to see you through other people’s eyes.”
3. Be you.
You are unique, with a story, strengths, and passions that set you apart from everyone else. Being true to yourself — even when it doesn’t seem to make sense — will always lead you down the right path in your career and in life.
Watch Industry Panel
Women in Data Science (WiDS) @ Penn is an independent virtual event to coincide with the annual Global WiDS Conference held at Stanford University and an estimated 150+ organizations worldwide. All genders are invited to attend WiDS regional events, which emphasize the diversity of data science, both in subject matter and personnel. A celebrated interdisciplinary event, WiDS @ Penn will welcome academic, student, and industry speakers from across the data science landscape. WiDS @ Penn is co-hosted by Analytics at Wharton, Penn Engineering, Wharton Customer Analytics, and The Wharton Department of Statistics and Data Science.