The field of Data Science is booming, yet comparatively few women are entering it. Why? What are the obstacles and opportunities facing them if they do? The path to change is challenging, but as a woman who has happily worked in data science for many years, I can say with confidence that it’s possible. Women have made an incredible impact in this industry, and we have the resources to follow in their footsteps.
Historically, women have been very influential in the STEM disciplines of computer science, mathematics, data technology, visualization, and statistics -- as can be seen in Figure 1 (presented in 2014 by a woman, Mamatha Upadhyaya, in Impact of Big Data on Analytics.
In the mid-19th century, the mathematician Ada Lovelace was the first person to write a computer program. In 1860, Florence Nightingale, a statistician and nurse, founded modern nursing and the world’s first secular nursing school. In 1940, Gertrude Mary Cox founded the Experimental Statistics department at NC State University. A few years later, Grace Hopper, while serving in the US Navy as a computer scientist, invented the first compiler. These women were at the forefront of computer science, mathematics, and statistics, and their achievements shaped the opportunities available today to women working within data science.
Figure 1 An infographic of the history of data science (Upadhyaya, 2014)
It has been nearly four years since Data Scientist was named “the sexiest job of the 21st century” by The Harvard Business Review. Women have always been a minority in the field, but oddly, their numbers may actually be decreasing. For example, as shown in Figure 2, women comprised 35% of computing and mathematical occupations in 1990, but only 26% by 2013, according to a study performed by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) -- despite women currently making up 57% of the labor force . Why is that?
Figure 2 The percentage of women in selected stem occupations between 1990 - 2013.
35% to 26% is a significant change for women in the field of computer science and mathematics. What are the challenges facing women and the opportunities available to increase their number in data science?
Closing the Gap: a Path for Change
Closing the gender gap is a challenge for many female data scientists today. Women like Claudia Perlich, one of the top data scientists in the world, are an inspiration, and a mentor by sharing their personal stories on women in data science. I was inspired to share my perspective by Claudia’s must-read