As new educational terms start this week, it’s a timely moment to highlight a cause that is close to our hearts: gender diversity in data science. It’s an unfortunate fact that women are still woefully underrepresented in this subject, and for other STEM subjects for that matter. Data science and STEM subjects remain male dominated to a shameful degree – women hold only about 26 % of data jobs; in the UK it’s even worse – women make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce. So why are things so bad for women in tech?
“There’s no way we can generate the number of scientists and engineers the economy requires without addressing the situation.” – Vince Cable, Leader of Leader of the Liberal Democrats
There is lack of STEM education for women early on in life, a lack of awareness of the opportunities in the tech industry for women with STEM qualifications, and not enough mentorship for women in data science and tech roles. The status quo simply isn’t good enough, and more needs to be done. There are a number of things that can be done to redress the gender imbalance.
“McKinsey found that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform those that are not gender-diverse. The bottom line: Gender diversity pays.” [source: Forbes]
So, aside from compelling research like this, what else can be done to address this issue?
1. Promote More Women
All too often, women are being promoted at a much slower rate as men in the tech industry. Research by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. indicates that women are 15% less likely than men to get promoted. In passing women over for promotion, we’re sending the message that their contributions are not adequately valued or financially rewarded. We understand that a promotion should be warranted on merit and gender shouldn’t come in the mix, but the figures suggest that gender is a barrier for some to get that promotion.
2. Recognise Women in Tech
When it comes to women in tech, we need to start celebrating successful female figures publicly. The media is constantly promoting tech innovators like Elon Musk, but more could be done to promote female innovators. There is no shortage of women who’ve become pioneers in their chosen field either, with big names like Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and founder of learnin.org. By promoting these women publicly, we give young girls something to aspire to as they progress through the education system.
One of the key aspects to addressing the gender imbalance is education. We need to start educating young women earlier about the opportunities out there in fields like STEM. The proportion of boys studying science subjects is still considerably higher than the proportion of girls. The latest Higher Education and Skills Agency (HESA) statistics showed that in 2013-14 52% of male undergraduates were enrolled on a science course compared to 40% of females. Although there are signs that things are slowly changing, at the moment the majority of young women are not encouraged to pursue careers in this industry, and miss out on great opportunities as a result. Both parents and schools and higher education establishments need to promote awareness of technology opportunities, and applications of their STEM qualifications to women.
4. Outreach Programs Aimed At women
One way to bridge the gender gap is to create more outreach programs aimed at women. Kim Nilsson, our CEO has had a lot of success in encouraging women to pursue a career in data science. “When we’re out there doing outreach work we see a lot of women who are interested and so one of the key solutions can be to really continue to support them in making the transition”, Kim says.
5. Improve Work/Life Balance
Finally, one of the best ways to encourage women into the tech industry is to improve work/life balance. Culturally, women are still disproportionately carrying out domestic roles at home compared to men, so flexible working hours can help organisations to be more accommodating to women with families. Without this conscious effort to improve this balance, women can find life choices like motherhood unfairly impacting their careers.
Anyone who’s spent any time working at a tech organisation knows how exciting the sector can be. Yet if we continue to fail to encourage women to make the transition into, data science and other STEM roles, then we will continue to miss out on some of the most creative and talented individuals. In order for a modern organisation to thrive, diversity and gender parity are an absolute necessity.
By encouraging young girls to embrace science, maths, engineering and tech as well as life choices that have historically been male dominated, we will usher in a new wave of creativity. Inspiring young girls to be the data scientists of the future will not only improve their prospects, but society as a whole as well. More women will come to data science as long as they can see the pipeline, and so long as we keep promoting and welcoming women to these fields, more will come. If we make the commitment to educating young girls, and encouraging them to join these fields, they will help to shape the future of our data and irradiate potential bias within.