Use Education to Bring Women Into Data Science

By Sears Merritt

According to the National Center for Education Statistics and The Washington Post, “Barely 18 percent of computer science degrees go to women. Women make up 11 percent of math faculty. Nearly half of the women who graduate with engineering degrees never enter the profession, or leave soon after.”

As the demand continues to increase for workers in the technology industry who can analyze the vast amount of raw digital data being collected, women are not even showing up as a blip on the profession’s map. While there are plenty of opinions as to why women aren’t being drawn to these tech-focused opportunities, most agree that there is a significant opportunity to increase female representation in one of the fastest growing careers in the world—data science.

Drawing women into this field must start early. Many experts look to educate girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in K–12 settings, while others turn to colleges and universities to encourage female students’ interest in data analytics-focused programs and degrees. As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”

These educational institutions need outside resources and financial backing to support enhanced data science-focused curricula. Corporate America and the burgeoning technology industry—which benefits from a diversified, highly adept population of data scientists—have both the resources and the opportunity to attract and support a new generation of women into this field.

In fact, several universities are in the process of implementing such programs. For example, Smith and Mount Holyoke, which focus on educating young women, are increasing their support for data science by creating a data science program and expanding faculty members trained in relevant fields, such as statistics and computer science.

Increased Focus in the Corporate Sector

There’s also an increased focus in the corporate sector on bringing additional women into data science. Some women now lead corporate data science departments, including Catherine Williams, the chief data scientist at AppNexus.

Some businesses are striving to increase the diversity in their data science departments by hosting educational programs that combine at-work experience with off-site courses at local universities, including MassMutual’s Data Science Development Program. Whether it’s through mentorship programs or educational opportunities, companies now see the value of investing in women and bringing them into data science departments at all levels.

If your organization seeks to diversify its data science focus, you can take the following steps to encourage this initiative.

Invest in Education

Look to area colleges and universities with female-focused programming or education to support their data science curricula. MassMutual recently invested $2 million to fund four-year programs at Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, providing the resources for five visiting faculty positions, as well as supporting the development of a data science-focused curriculum.

Establish Employee Resource Groups

The lack of women in data science results in a lack of female role models in the sector. Consider establishing an employee resource group to create an open community for female employees. British Gas recently launched such an initiative, called Women in Technology, which aims to help female employees “promote their leadership, technical and professional skills.”