Business Analyst & Data Nerd
Business Developer, T. Hansen Gruppen A/S
Business Degree in Financial Analysis, Project Management and IT, Vejle Business School; PBa Math and Art, CVU Jelling
For Majken Sander, working with data is an art as well as a science. In data, she finds a creative outlet that leads to better business decisions. Sander is a Business Developer at T. Hansen Gruppen A/S, a retail supplier of equipment and spare parts for bicycles, scooters, vehicles, computers, and more, in Denmark. She is a self-proclaimed “realist”—interested in what can be measured and proven, and as she puts it: “leaving no path within analytics, visualization of facts, and the language of math unexplored.”
At the young age of 16, Sander began business school, with an entrance into marketing, economics, math, and IT, followed by an advanced focus on business intelligence; she also went on to study project management. But before all of this, her introduction to the field of computer programming began one day at age 10, when an older boy in the neighborhood got a computer—and she couldn’t touch it. The common idea back then was that “programming was for boys” and if something had to do with data or math, you had to be a boy to participate. This only served to fuel her interest, and she went on to both learn how to program and excel in her math courses. It was only later she discovered: “I realized I wasn’t patient enough to be a programmer—I wanted to see the real-life relevance of my work.” Today, she uses her knowledge of programming to “speak the same language” as the programmers she works with, as they work toward common goals.
Sander completed business school and one of her first roles was as a business consultant at Dolberg Data. Her role there involved advising clients on how to run a business, develop business processes, how to make different departments work well together, and how to determine which questions to ask when making business decisions. She vividly recalls that at first, it felt like she was playing ball on the men’s field: “I felt that I could be feminine, but not too feminine…I felt that I always had to prove my worth.” She later went to work at Hans Tørsleff management systems, and it was at this time that she recalls the first significant milestone in her career: when she felt that a client took her seriously.
“During a project that was off-track, I had to tell an older, male client (and a manager) that he was causing part of the problem by stalling the decision-making process. At the time, I was in my 20s (about half his age), and I was faced with the challenge of telling him his role in the problem. He didn’t like it much, but in the end, he thanked me for helping him realize the issue, and he paid the bill.”
After working several years as a business consultant, analyst, and project manager in a male-dominated field, Sander took some time off to have children, and at the same time, to re-think her career. Well-practiced in asking tough questions, she asked herself what she really wanted. Her next move was to become a math and science teacher at the Skovvang School, where ironically she discovered why she believes so few women pursue careers in math and science:
“One issue is that a lot of examples used in math are geared toward the general interests of boys (for example, ‘How fast does the car drive?’). If we brought in more feminine examples, we could meet girls in their territory, instead of expecting them to get interested in what the boys are interested in, and learn the math.” She adds: “Math is about numbers, but we use words to talk about it—words the kids have never really thought about, so that creates an added layer of challenge. My focus was to work with kids on their language skills, to bring language into math in an understandable way. Helping the kids learn about words that are used in math.”
In the business-world, up until this point, Sander felt “in-between” genders in the office—because of her analytical nature, she didn’t feel that she quite fit-in with the other women, and while she got along with her male colleagues, at the end of the day, she wasn’t “one of them” either. Being a teacher allowed her a break—to “be myself, without the effort”, as she puts it.
After two years teaching, she reentered the business world, rejuvenated and ready to use her talent for analyzing data and business processes at T. Hansen Gruppen A/S. Sander’s particular passion is for providing what she calls “data-driven decision support,” so that business leaders use data—facts—to make decisions, rather than gut instincts, which she notes is all too common. For example, in her work analyzing data on the sales of spare car parts, Sander often sees that “…a team might estimate that just because they sold 1,200 items of a certain car part two years ago, and 1,000 a year ago, they’ll project 800 will be sold in the current year. But,if you look at the data for the cars on the road, for example, if fewer people are driving the car that uses that part, you can make a better prediction, using data to know what to expect, and make decisions based on more realistic expectations.”
Today, Sander finds it’s easier than ever to be herself in the business world—she acknowledges that some of this comes with age, and some from perspective. Her advice to other women in business reflects a wisdom clearly gained from experience: “Don’t feel you have to give up your femininity to be in business. At the same time, you have to consider that you’re entering a male-dominated playing field…acknowledge that your male colleagues see the world differently than you do.” Sander adds that women bring a diverse perspective to the workplace, and it's important we be aware of its value. She believes that it's in the combination of both men and women's attributes that we can excel in business, together.