Earlier this year, members of our data science team attended “Data Scientist 2.0” in Edinburgh – a conference for students entering the workforce. For our data scientists, these events are inspiring. They see the community growing strong and making an impact on industries one wouldn’t necessarily even associate with data science.
Despite the positivity, there is no denying the glaring gender gap within data science, and the entire STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) community. In the U.S., only 26% of data jobs are filled by women, and studies predict the gap will only widen. The outlook is more positive in the U.K. While women make up 23% of STEM jobs, numbers have increased significantly in the last few years.
At TVSquared, we have a group of brilliant data scientists, two of whom also happen to be women – Esther Mármol-Queraltó and Regina Berengolts. We wanted to get their thoughts on the gender gap and what must be done to attract more diversity to the field.
How did you come to work in the data science field?
Esther: I have a PhD in Astrophysics and, in general, I’m a very curious person with a strong analytical background. I realized that the tasks I enjoyed most involved solving problems by extracting every piece of information available. Relishing in those challenges is key to being a good data scientist. I also love being part of a team that drives changes and makes decisions using scientific, data-driven approaches.
Regina: I had degrees in business and media studies, with some exposure to analytics, but not in any real depth. I am generally uncomfortable making decisions without data to back them up, and the work I was doing didn’t enable that to happen. Consequently, I decided to pursue a master’s in business analytics and big data. One of my professors was friends with the CEO of a small analytics startup in Glasgow. It was there when I fell in love with the data science community – and Scotland!
What are your thoughts on the STEM gender gap?
Esther: There is a clear gender unbalance in the field, which also reflects the reality in the lecture rooms. However, I’m pleased to see that there is an increasing interest in data science among women. Working in data science requires very different skill sets – from coding to being client-facing – and I expect the momentum among women wanting to join the field to continue.
Regina: I’ve had a good experience in the community. I’ve felt respected and listened to by everyone I interact with, and I’ve never felt like I was at a disadvantage because of my gender. That being said, there is still a very strong societal expectation in terms of gender norms, where girls may not be as encouraged to pursue a career in STEM as much as boys. While I haven’t felt a problem being a woman in the field, I know there are many barriers to enter it to begin with.
What can be done to encourage more women to explore data science?
Esther: The answer is complex. As Regina mentioned, from a young age, girls are not encouraged to pursue their interests in STEM (at least not in the same way as boys). Responsibility lies with different parties – parents working not to enforce typical gender stereotypes; educators reevaluating curriculums; companies expanding their recruiting processes. Perhaps, most importantly is the industry, as a whole, continuing to talk about and learn from the issue. It will take a while for things to change, but I do believe the gap will close.
Regina: It’s a systemic issue; one that needs dedicated individuals to consistently be seen to oppose that underlying expectation. It’s especially important in fields where data is central because that’s where the future of the human race is heading. Women need to have a voice and a role in guiding that.
A recent column in The Scotsman beautifully summed up the importance of making STEM a more diverse field:
“Not only is diversity within a team essential for creating great software products, programmed without bias, it’s essential for tech businesses to thrive as a whole. The more viewpoints you have around the table, the better you will anticipate the needs of a diverse customer base.”