THERE'S often a notion that numerical-based subjects are boring and only done by stoic, structured people with no creativity or spark.
But two women at the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) are disrupting that thought process in their approach to data gathering and processes for the Caribbean's leading national statistics office.
They are Carol Coy, director general of Statin, and Leesha Delatie-Budair, deputy director general at Statin in charge of technical areas.
Coy told All Woman that growing up in Madras, St Ann, she attended Westwood High and from there went to The University of the West Indies (UWI) where she pursued economics before landing a job at Statin, where she has been for over 30 years.
The decision to work in the field of economics and statistics, she said, did not come as a result of any specific defining moment, rather it was just knowing she liked working with figures and doing things that stimulated her mind.
"It was just a transition for me as I did geography and economics at sixth form. When you come to Statin to work you realise what you did at university was just the base. Statin puts a lot of stock in training, so you attend sessions in developing countries. You are exposed to a lot of training which helps you in the work you do. It's much more involved and in depth at Statin than at university.
"I came as a young statistician working and receiving training. I presumed I had the aptitude for it and became director of the division we call national accounts. The level of work you do has to be current and meet international standards. International standards evolve and, for example, in the field of national accounts, you realise that it's not static so over the years as economies change, the international statistics community updates their standards and you have to keep up as part of this and you have to ensure the Jamaican figures are in line with what is required internationally. You're also exposed to a number of international conferences and here you see what other countries are doing, especially the developed countries. You're exposed to how they do things and then tasked to come back to ensure the work at Statin meets this," Coy said.
She further pointed out that Statin is held in high regard and working there you're nominated to a number of international statistics bodies. Likewise, Coy is a member of the UN Advisory Group on National Accounts and a member of the Advisory Group of Statistics in Caricom.
Through work, Coy has had the privilege of being able to travel to Europe, Africa and South Africa and has also had to privilege of leading the modernisation efforts of the organisation.
Her hope is to encourage young people, particularly young women, that it is an area worth exploring and taking up space.
"Statistics — it's interesting. It's not one area. There are a variety of areas — the social side, the economic side and the highly mathematical side. There are a range of areas so don't let the issue of maths be a deterrent. Once you get into it, it might be easier than you think it is. It has a variety of areas you might consider and move in to help to improve statistics, make it more relevant, accurate and provide it on a timely manner," Coy said.
Outside of work, Coy does outreach through her church Bethel Baptist and enjoys exercising, reading or gathering with her family.
Meanwhile, Delatie-Budair, like Coy, liked numbers and math and found it very interesting. Therefore, it was no surprise that after leaving St Catherine High she too pursued a degree at UWI in economics and statistics.
Delatie-Budair, who also has a masters in economics from UWI with focus in economic development policy and postgraduate training in survey sampling from University of Michigan, told All Woman that majority of her experience is in social statistics as she enjoys taking math problems and applying it to real-life situations.
"The perception of what statistics is and statisticians do is flawed. They perceive statisticians as dumb, boring persons who sit in a room with numbers. Theoretical statisticians coming up with beautiful new mathematical equations might do that, but as an official statistician it's really applying your knowledge of data and applying mathematical techniques to real life data. So, for example, when you're calculating the GDP [gross domestic product] you're essentially doing regression analysis but it's now using real-life data to make informed conclusions that affect real life. You're doing index numbers; yes, it's mathematical equations but again, a practical application of it can be quite interesting if you have a curious mind — especially now as the system has evolved and programming is a bigger part of stats and you're able to move through massive amounts of data quicker," Delatie-Budair said.
She added that what has made her role as a statistician more fulfilling is her approach to the job.
"Wherever I went I improved and brought ideas to make the work better and improve on what I was doing. For example, when I started in trade it took months to move trade data. When I came in and demonstrated an aptitude to learn SAS, I did, applied the coding and improved the processes of how we managed the trade data," she said. "I moved from trade to unit head of special projects, which is on the social side doing more training with UN entities to learn about the survey programme and regime. I eventually became director of research design and evaluations — responsible for developing new statistical methodology and techniques. I did training at the University of Michigan in survey sampling and from there became deputy director general in charge of technical areas at Statin," she said.
Similarly to Coy, Delatie-Budair wants to see more uptake in statistical disciplines locally.
"We do a lot of career fairs to get youngsters involved. In recent years as a management team we seek out career fairs ourselves and we go to high school ones and not just the university ones alone. Math-based programmes have low uptake and how we train them at our university — you have to do a lot of work to build them to what you need in a statistician for them to effectively operate on their own as real life doesn't operate the same way as sample data. However, it is rewarding, makes you think and it's applying math to real life situations," she said.
When it's not statistics, Delatie-Budair enjoys swimming, family time and painting abstract pieces.
She said: "I am also big on having an attitude of gratitude. You need your village and need to ensure your village has the right people in it — the people who will inspire you to be better, who can let you know when you are wrong, people who are there for you because you need them, not because you asked for them. I like the fact that my village keeps me in check and they inspire me to be better, to do better."