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The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is ‘Invest in Women’. We speak to three AMSI females who are making waves in the mathematical sciences. This article spotlights Virginia Wheway – Global Head of Enterprise Data at Optiver (AMSI Corporate Partner) – as she explores what this year’s theme means to her in relation to her career in the mathematical sciences.

This article is part of our International Women’s Day feature series

Image: Virginia Wheway, AMSI Corporate Member. Supplied.


What is your current role in the mathematical sciences?

I’m currently the Global Head of Enterprise Data at Optiver. This sounds like quite a mouthful so let me break it down. Optiver is an electronic market maker and liquidity provider to global financial markets, trading on more than 75 exchanges and venues around the world. The “Global” part of my title is exciting as the work my team and I do covers all of Optiver’s offices in Europe, USA and APAC and I have colleagues and work friends all over the world. Enterprise Data is the data that all companies collect and use to help run the business; finance, HR, recruitment, marketing, sustainability, operations , risk, procurement etc.

There are many mathematics and technology roles within Optiver that work on market and high frequency trading data and decision-making but this is not the area I work in. The Enterprise Data team uses a lot of global, cloud-based data tools that naturally work well for a global company and I’m able to use things I’ve learned in other industries to solve data problems for Optiver that have a similar structure to what I’ve worked on before.


Why do you believe it is important for gender equality to be a priority in the mathematical sciences industry? 

To me the benefits of gender equality go both ways: mathematical sciences benefit from having diverse views and life experiences of its members, and women benefit from being part of the mathematical sciences industry and having a huge pool of rewarding careers open to them. I’d feel really ripped off if I hadn’t been exposed to the exciting career and friendships I’ve made in my profession. With a lack of gender equality, we are not only by missing an opportunity for women to help shape the world, there’s also big implications for women’s future employability if they are held back from and discouraged from following career in the mathematical sciences and data.

It is always difficult to predict the future but the trend is clear, that the growth areas of the economy and quality employment opportunities are going to be increasingly in areas such as data, machine learning, and AI, etc. Employers will increasingly be focused on diversity of people, genders, backgrounds, who will think and approach problems and solutions differently.


What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about a career in STEM? 

My number one piece of advice to young women is to back yourself! And the second piece of advice is to explain all the amazing opportunities out there for those trained and interested in mathematical sciences. If I’m at a social event or meeting new people at a conference and I proudly say I’m a mathematician, the answer I most often get is “what do you do with that?”. This question gives me the opportunity to describe all the places I’ve worked over the past 30 years as a mathematician and data scientist: from medical research, aerospace company Boeing, environment & carbon modelling, startups in ecommerce, mining,  energy, education, and now the world of finance. I can honestly say I’ve never been bored or never struggled to find a job. In fact, I’ve barely applied for a job in the past 10 years as there is such high demand for people with my skills.

The skills you gain in maths and data training can be applied any part society you can think of and it’s possible to blend your personal passions with your mathematics skills throughout your career.

For example: environmental modelling and climate science, customer modelling of your favourite online store, sound metrics in a concert hall, sports statistics, aviation carbon modelling, understanding financial markets. In every role I’ve had over the past 30+ years, I have helped organisations make better decisions and understand the world they are operating in through the use of data and mathematics. For example, in medical research I worked with someone on a model for lung cancer and the impacts on people’s health, and the same model was able to be used when I worked in a mining company to predict the ‘health’ of their trucks, and in e-commerce to predict the ‘health’ of sales over COVID. So you learn the mathematical model once and then you can apply it in so many places!

Finally, there is definitely the perception that maths is hard or not necessary for girls. Maths is just another language and is a beautiful way of breaking down complex problems and critical thinking which is something we all do in everyday life. We sometimes don’t realise we’re even doing it so don’t second-guess yourself – you already have the skills.


What are your hopes for the future of gender equality in the workplace, particularly in the mathematical sciences industry?

I won’t lie, I have certainly had difficulties in my career and most of my career has been spent in traditionally male-dominated industries where I’ve had to earn my stripes. I’ve had experiences where I’ve been asked if I’m any good at maths (I have a PhD!), or that it might take longer to explain something to me because it’s ‘complicated’ but these incidents are becoming much rarer and I’ve been around long enough to have answers prepared (and I back myself). When I think to the future, I look at my high-school aged daughter. I’d love her to not think twice about choosing maths in senior high school and to not question pursuing a career in maths if she’s interested. In the workplace it would be great if she is welcomed as a mathematician, not be seen as a rare ‘female mathematician’ and that she will be welcomed as an equal.

Some companies have taken this as a challenge that needs to be addressed and others still lag. The more of us that are out there having these conversations and thriving in our maths profession, the more we can change outdated perceptions. The biggest challenge we have though is that there are not enough women studying the disciplines that many industries need – disciplines like engineering, computer science and mathematics. These facts have been widely reported in the press and in the Government’s own annual STEM Equity Monitor.  I encourage everyone to take this on and if you have a daughter, niece, friend who is thinking about pursing maths, get them to look up or try and track me down online.

The rewards for me have far outweighed the pitfalls / difficulties. I’m so proud to be a mathematician – apart from piloting rockets, it’s the coolest career on the planet.

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