Women in Data: Meet Deloitte CDO Dr. Adita Karkera

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The latest installment in our Q&A series with women leaders in data features Dr. Adita Karkera, chief data officer (CDO) of government and public services at Deloitte. (Read our previous Q&A here.) 

Dr. Adita Karkera discovered her love for data as a database administrator for the State of Arkansas. Over the next two decades, she dedicated herself to improving public service, working her way up to a leadership role as the state’s first chief data officer. Karkera now serves as the chief data officer for Deloitte Consulting LLP’s government and public services practice. She is also a founding member of Women Leaders in Data & AI (WLDA) and the founding chapter lead for the federal government chapter of Women in Data, and she has been recognized as an industry thought leader by the Women in IT Awards, CDO Magazine, GovTech Awards, and more. You can follow her on LinkedIn here.

What inspired you to choose a career in data and become a leader in the field?

Starting off in the public sector was pivotal for me. I was driven by the mission to improve the use of data for the public good, which has significantly enhanced my career in data management. In 2000, I worked on data modeling, database maintenance, and data analysis for several complex government data systems. Back then, we mostly created reports on aggregate data. Were we using data to its fullest potential to drive decision-making and influence policy? Probably not. After all, data is only useful if you use it. However, this experience was significant, as it demonstrated my ability to handle data, impact mission problems, solve citizen-related issues, and enhance citizen experiences. This ignited my passion for data management, and I have been hooked ever since.

What have been your biggest challenges as a woman in data?

Becoming a female data leader, particularly as the only woman and woman of color in the room, can present several challenges:

  • Lack of representation: Being the only woman or person of color in the room can be isolating. It can also lead to feelings of being an outsider and increased pressure to prove oneself.
  • Gender and racial bias: Unconscious biases can hinder opportunities for advancement, affect evaluations of competence, and lead to microaggressions.
  • Balancing multiple identities: Women of color often navigate the intersection of gender and racial bias, which can compound the challenges they face.
  • Lack of mentors and role models: Having few or no role models who share similar experiences can make it difficult to envision a successful career path and obtain guidance.

Overcoming these challenges often involves building a strong support network, seeking mentors, continuously learning and updating skills, and advocating for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Best advice you’d give to other women aspiring for a leadership role in data?

That you are needed today more than ever! Diverse teams and leadership are essential to ensuring equitable and fair solutions. 

Here are a few additional pieces of advice I would give:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of building your brand – it’s your chance to shine and show what makes you unique!
  • Find your sponsors who will speak for you when you are not in the room.  
  • Embrace the randomness – there are infinite paths to get into data, AI, and technology in general. Don’t be afraid to venture into an unfamiliar area to maximize your opportunity for impact.  
  • Ask for help when needed. Remember that you are not lesser if you need help and don’t struggle in silence.
  • Acknowledge and share your accomplishments, as it’s not a form of bragging.
  • Remember to speak up – you are in the room for a reason!

Did you know? We produced our first Women in Data Management and Governance half-day conference at Enterprise Data World 2024. Hear the live recording and join the community by signing up for our Women in Data Management and Governance newsletter.