Student Essay Contest

Business and Mathematics: Nina’s Journey

2018 Essay Contest: Middle School Level Honorable Mention

By: Eve Mullen, Holton-Arms School (Bethesda, Maryland)

Nina Mullen has always loved math. Coming from a family of doctors, and going to an all-girls school that pushed STEM, she was exposed to math from a young age. As she grew and matured, she came to love the idea of having “a measurable impact on the world.” And, today, that’s just what she has. Nina wanted to become a woman in math for various reasons. She went to Greenwich Academy, an all girls school that became co-ed in high school. However, math stayed separate to give the girls a chance to speak up and take chances without the judgment of their male counterparts. Nina loved math through high school, and even considered being a math major in college. However, she found that her college math class wasn’t as interesting as high school, and dropped it for other math-based courses, such as economics. Nina found a love for business and pursued it to Harvard Business School, which she heard about from a friend who was applying. She realized it could be an option for her, too. She applied early admissions to the 2+2 program, where you work for two years and then matriculate for your MBA.
Nina works at Dia&Co, a women’s fashion company startup that offers personal styling and at-home try-ons, specifically targeted to plus-size women. Once signing up for Dia&Co, customers get a monthly box that has five articles of clothing, and pay for the ones they choose to keep. Behind those five garments is a whole lot of math. The first thing a customer does is take a survey based on their preferences. They enter their measurements, style, likes/dislikes, activities, and more. For example, let’s say Customer A enters that she is a size 24, is a lawyer, must look professional, wears a lot of neutrals, and hates tank tops. An algorithm dubbed the “styling algorithm” that was created by the company, takes this information and compares it to other customers with similar preferences. The algorithm uses this comparison to find articles of clothing that match the customer. As the algorithm is used more and more, it gets “smarter” and can more easily give satisfactory results. It learns customer’s style preferences based on what they send back, and combines loose words like “girly” or “classic” with the other information to sell each customer clothing that they will love.
Nina’s place in the company is in Business Development and one of her roles is financial forecasting. She decides whether or not it would be worthwhile to invest in a new brand to include in their boxes, and predicts how much money they will make each season. This determines how much the company can spend in order to stay on budget. Right now, Nina manages ten brands, four more than the six they had when she started. A huge part of Nina’s role is to work with data. She bases her predictions on data from seasons prior, factoring in new possibilities in what will change prices. In an young 80-person company, Nina makes a large (measurable) impact in her job.
Prior to Harvard Business School, Nina worked for a large consulting company. While working in consulting, Nina worked mostly on teams full of men. Often, she was the only woman in a meeting at a time. After long meetings, the employees would have something called “team fun” to take their minds off things and lighten them up. Team fun could be a snack, a joke, a story, or anything that kept people happy. After one particular meeting, in which Nina was the only woman, someone had a video to share with everyone. Before the man with the video played it, their manager asked very sincerely, “Is it appropriate for Nina?”, meaning that he wanted to make sure that she could handle whatever was in the video. Nina, taken aback, realized that the manager wasn’t sure she could deal with the violence, sexism, or whatever, just because she isn’t a man. Being in a big, mostly male, company, Nina realized that the stigmas of softer skills were more expected of her. No one realized that she could be amazing at math, or that she could be aggressive, stereotypes associated with men. She wasn’t expected to achieve things as great or as quickly as her male peers, and this truth that all women in STEM will have to face drove Nina to her current job at Dia&Co, which is primarily run by women, founded by women, and chaired by women. Math controls Nina’s field of work. It allows her company to do things that humans can’t, like the styling algorithm that pairs customers with garments, or the forecasting process that keeps Dia&Co within budget. Math offers a systematic way of approaching a problem, and allows people to approach the same problem the same way, and measure the differences. Math helped the founder’s of Dia&Co create a business out of nothing.
About the student:
Eve Mullen is an eighth grader at the Holton-Arms School for girls, located in Bethesda, Maryland. Eve has always loved STEM, especially math, and hopes to pursue math in her career. At school, Eve participates in math club, where she works with her friends to solve problems and bring math to the middle school in a fun and exciting way.