Can Big Data Close the Gender Gap in High-Tech Careers?

Analysis is Key


We’ve come a long way in defying the stereotype that women’s aptitude for math and science is inherently inferior to that of men. In fact, in the United States, girls scored evenly with boys on the 2013 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test in both math and science. In the classroom, the American Psychological Association reports that girls actually receive higher grades than boys in math and science and have for nearly a century.


In spite of these strides, though, women remain a rarity in science and technology professions. Only 18 percent of computer science degrees go to women, just 11 percent of math professors are women, and almost half of women with engineering degrees never enter the field or leave shortly after doing so. The one exception, however, is the field of statistics, where more than 40 percent of degrees go to women. Read on to find out why data science careers just may be the profession that finally closes the tech-job gender gap.


Defining the Field


The concept of “Big Data” refers to the organization and analysis of information collected by businesses, portable devices, search engines, etc. This analysis offers organizations the business insights requisite to meet customer demand and drive profitability. Big Data spans several disciplines, known as Big Data STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, including statistics. However, more and more schools have begun to offer degrees focused exclusively on Big Data, such as Villanova University’s online masters in analytics.


The Appeal of Big Data Careers to Women


Also known as data science or business analytics programs, degrees in Big Data seem to have a unique appeal to women. Women seem particularly drawn to the statistical component of Big Data, and some speculate that cultural and environmental factors are responsible. Culturally, research suggests that the more collaborative a science is, the more attractive it is to women, who frequently excel at teamwork and communication.


Additionally, the field of statistics has made a concerted effort to attract female professionals. The profession has created a welcoming environment, fostering a core group of at least 20 percent women so newcomers don’t feel like oddities, and grooming female leaders as mentors. Last year, the American Statistical Association (ASA) held its first “Women in Statistics” conference, and women accounted for 40 percent of statistics professors on the tenure track. The ASA is also poised to launch its “This Is Statistics” campaign to market Big Data careers to middle- and high-school girls and people of color.


Analytics: A Pathway to Prominence


Without question, Big Data is the hot tech profession to watch. In the next few years, the field expects it will need about two million new data science professionals to keep up with exponentially growing droves of data. Businesses are desperate for competent data-minded professionals, and that means stellar starting pay and excellent upward mobility.


Clearly, Big Data’s career opportunities are ripe, and women seem especially interested. With explosive growth already occurring in the field, Big Data just may be the vehicle that female scientists use to finally establish themselves as a formidable force in the technology professions.




Image via Flickr by Jorge Franganillo

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