Get to know Michelle Tat, 2022 Academy of Women Achievers Awardee

Michelle Tat

On June 15, 2022, we will join together and celebrate the achievements of five unstoppable women who demonstrate YW Boston’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women at our 27th Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon.

Since 1995, as part of our mission to promote and celebrate the achievements of women, YW Boston has held the Academy of Women Achievers luncheon. Through this event, we recognize and honor some of Boston’s brightest, boldest, bravest, and most influential women. Leading up to the event, we are sitting down with each of the 2022 awardees for interviews and releasing one each month.

YW Boston cannot wait to induct Michelle Tat into the Academy of Women Achievers. Michelle is the Senior Data Analyst at Reify Health and is this year’s recipient of our Sylvia Ferrell-Jones Award. To learn about Michelle, read our interview with her:


We are thrilled to honor you at our 27th Academy of Women Achievers on June 15th. Can you please tell us what about YW Boston’s work resonates with you?

I appreciate the efforts by YW Boston to educate organizations and create programs to help women of color truly thrive in the workplace. Key wording there is thriving, and just not surviving or subsisting. Also as a trans person, I also really appreciate the work towards gender inclusion and equity in the work place, which I think frankly is overlooked by many organizations.

I think helping organizations with their DEI programs is significant: many leaders have blind spots in what their employees face every day, and DEI groups can help raise these issues. However, it’s not easy to stand up a DEI function or have a DEI function run effectively, so I am grateful that YW Boston has focused some of their resources towards this more generally.

Tell us about your career path and what drew you to health data science in particular?

My path was a winding one for sure. The general value I try to adhere to in my career is doing something as harm reductive as possible. I have tended to gravitate to positions where I can make an impact on people in a positive way. For example, I started my career at the City of Boston and much of what I did there was provide data to help make our city planners reduce the number of accidents we see on our streets. Moving on from that, healthcare was a natural next choice. I have been a part of a handful of different health tech companies. I’m pretty passionate about trying to find creative ways to deliver care to patients that need it, and I’ve been stuck in health tech for the past 4-5 years or so.

More generally about data science: I am a recovering academic and came to Boston originally for a post-doctoral fellowship at the VA Boston Healthcare System. The academic job market has been abysmal for the past decade or so, and naturally I still wanted to use my stats and research skills in a technical capacity. That led me to doing data science today!

You’ve written in the past about how data science has the potential to create positive and negative effects on LGBTQ+ populations. Can you talk about that and how you would like to see data science used for equity and justice?

I think there are large opportunities out there for analytics professionals to make a direct impact on our communities. And frankly, there is a ton of low hanging fruit. I immediately think of things like city services: how can we use data on fares, passenger volume on routes, and socioeconomic data on our neighborhoods to target more investments in areas of transportation? In terms of healthcare, how can we leverage data to understand a patient’s accessibility to provider networks, or more importantly, specific barriers they are facing to getting care (frankly, insurance coverage and insurance red tape is a huge part of this).

More generally, we are living in a society with a proliferation of algorithms that we interact with in our daily lives. I think data ethics is a huge issue these days. For example, machine vision algorithms may detect white faces better than Black or Brown faces. This isn’t an explicit failing of the programmers behind these algorithms, but it does represent implicit bias and racism that underlie these systems, mostly because the people behind these tools have not considered their own blind spots. Broadly speaking, there are opportunities for the tech community to take a step back, and understand how to build algorithms that are more equitable overall and take into consideration our own implicit biases before writing a line of code.

'I think there are large opportunities out there for analytics professionals to make a direct impact on our communities' - Michelle Tat, 2022 Academy of Women Achievers Awardee Share on X
You are a board member at the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) and have named LGBTQ+ prison abolition particularly important to you. Can you talk about this work and your hopes for the future?

Oh wow, this is a pretty packed question, and I am not sure I am the best person to speak to it. There are so many problems with how our criminal justice system operates. For one, many jails and prisons are operated by private contractors and these companies have little incentive to shut prisons down, and have many vested interests in some of the racial inequities we see in policing today.

But more specifically, trans people are treated horribly in prisons. Oftentimes, transwomen are placed in male prisons, rather than female ones. Worse yet, they are often isolated in solitary confinement because of their “safety.” The U.N. itself classifies solitary confinement for more than 15 days as a form of torture. So, for transwomen, typically they are faced with two consequences: get assaulted by other male inmates or face psychological torture in solitary. And usually, the prison system does not care about providing adequate healthcare for incarcerated trans folxs, so their medical issues are never taken seriously.

And the list continues to go on. We don’t provide enough support to incarcerated folks after they have been released. Trans people coming out of the prison system need additional support but are highly unlikely to get it. They often have nowhere to turn to get medical support, and because of the general social stigma of being trans, being formerly incarcerated, they are unlikely to find work. Many turn to sex work, and continue struggling to survive. Much of the time they end up back in prison. It is a vicious cycle. Unfortunately, most people in our society do not understand that prisons are 100% punitive in nature and there’s nothing rehabilitative or restorative about it.

Is there anything you are currently working on, personally or with MTPC, that you are excited to share?

After many years of planning and reorganizing, MTPC is currently working on a few initiatives that I can share. The first of which is planting the roots for a trans leadership academic. One of our foci in the future is to be a hub to build community leaders, and to help build more leadership capacity within our community. We recently received a large sum of funding for this project. As such, it is in the early phases currently, but you will start hearing more details to come later this year.

Second, we are hoping to refresh our efforts around providing support to trans people around I.D. documents. This is a major pain point for trans people across New England, and so we have started planning to rebuild how we support trans folks in this process. This potentially means a brand new website and brand new systems of community support that will hopefully increase accessibility and access to trans people who are in need of updating their ID documents.

What advice do you have for women striving for equity in their workplaces and throughout Greater Boston?

I think there are two things. The first is finding allyship within organizations and raising your voices through various venues, whether that’s in the form of ERGs (employee resource groups) or just talking to management regularly about it. Along those lines, it is important that we continue to recognize that allyship also means recognizing the inherent inequalities amongst all underrepresented minorities in the workplace. I think it’s easy for us to silo ourselves in our own little identity groups not realizing we all have similar goals, and I think it’s important to work together and find shared avenues of equity that everyone can benefit from.

I think the second, and the lowest hanging fruit, is building safe space for underrepresented minorities. This means building cultures where communication of sensitive subjects is encouraged, that underrepresented minorities can have a place to speak up and feel like they won’t be punished for it, that people are willing to listen and understand about some of the daily struggles some of us go through. Most people of different underrepresented minorities I talk to in my professional life generally say the same thing: they just want to be heard, and they want their voices to be taken seriously by their leadership (often who are White and male). This is generally still a struggle today and very few companies have cultures that do this well.

'It is important that we continue to recognize that allyship also means recognizing the inherent inequalities amongst all underrepresented minorities in the workplace' - Michelle Tat, 2022 Academy of Women Achievers Awardee Share on X


Learn more from Michelle Tat at our 27th Annual Academy of Women Achievers Luncheon on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

Register Now

2022 Academy of Women Achievers Awardees
Evelyn Barahona, Director, Latino Equity Fund Read our interview with her.
Saskia Epstein, Vice President, Client and Community Relations, PNC Bank
Allison Feaster, Vice President of Player Development & Organizational Growth, The Boston Celtics. Read our interview with her. 
Jeneé Osterheldt, Culture Columnist, The Boston Globe Read our interview with her.
Michelle Tat, Senior Data Analyst, Reify Health, Sylvia Ferrell-Jones Award Recipient