Sadie St. Lawrence
Founder and CEO, Women in Data
Sadie St. Lawrence was working in a college laboratory at Sacramento State in 2014 on a path toward eventually earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience when she confronted an inconvenient truth: She didn’t want to euthanize rodents. She thought, “There has to be a way to do science and to do what I love without doing harm to animals.”
A trusted adviser suggested she explore data science, and she was immediately fascinated by the proliferation of data creation through people’s digital devices and how corporate America was building the algorithms and studying the data that impacts daily life. “I went into the lab the next day,” she says, “and I quit.”
St. Lawrence, 30, grew up on an Iowa farm in a small town of about 4,000 people. She was surrounded by animals and homeschooled with her six siblings, and she dreamed of one day making her way out West to California. Her first stop was Casper College in Wyoming for a year before transferring to Sacramento State, which she chose because she wanted to study under a piano teacher who specialized in Chopin and other composers of the Romantic era. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2013 and worked for nearly a year in the college’s Neurobiology of Emotional Learning and Memory Lab.
“Data touches every part of our lives, and if we don’t have diverse people building the algorithm and providing insight to data, what we’re going to create is a more biased world moving forward. It’s really important that we bring a diverse mindset into this industry.”
Quitting the lab and reevaluating her career choice led St. Lawrence to earn her master’s degree in analytics online from Villanova University in 2016. Not long after, she began a five-year stint at VSP Global in Rancho Cordova, including two years as the company’s lead data scientist. All the while, she was building Women in Data, which she founded in 2015 with a mission to close the gender gap in technology. Those early years developing her nonprofit were sometimes lonely, she says. “I would say probably one of the most difficult times is just showing up and no one else does. … It can be very discouraging when you have a vision of an organization and something new and a brighter future, and not everyone sees that vision yet.”
Women in Data is now an international nonprofit organization with 47 chapters in 17 countries and a community of more than 20,000 people that helps women get data jobs and advance into C-suite positions. It does this through awareness (events), education (a residency program that partners with educational institutions that offer certification in data science) and advancement (mentorships and coaching programs).
“Data touches every part of our lives, and if we don’t have diverse people building the algorithm and providing insight to data, what we’re going to create is a more biased world moving forward,” she says. “It’s really important that we bring a diverse mindset into this industry.” This is also where jobs are headed — in the arena of data and artificial intelligence.
Her advocacy, she says, helps women build economic well-being, support their families and larger communities, develop a sense of worth and, in some cases, get out of bad situations. She recounts one example of a Women in Data participant who landed her first job in data science. St. Lawrence later learned that the job had given this woman the financial freedom and confidence to leave an abusive relationship. “When I think of accomplishments,” she says, “it’s those individual stories of individual people (whose) lives were touched that make me wake up every morning and do it all again.”
Get all the profiles in our Young Professionals issue delivered to your inbox: Subscribe to the Comstock’s newsletter today!
Dina Gentry is the communications director for the El Dorado County Office of Education, a role that impacts thousands of students and families across 15 school districts.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death in May 2020, Crystaline Combs stepped into an unexpected role outside of her regular “day job” as vice president and consumer and business banking administrative manager at the U.S. Bank Sacramento Main Branch.
Gerardo Aceves and Amit Dhugga are CEO and president of Platinum Express, a Yuba City-based company with a fleet of 100 trucks.
Juliana Almanza is chief of staff of the West Sacramento-based construction trade association Associated General Contractors of California.