The data science field is booming as Big Data and advanced analytics become primary players in the boardroom. Dealing with new paradigms, constant evolution, and greater complexity, the entire C-suite now realizes that gut feel, instinct, and experience are no match against volumes of data that are essential components in solving today’s business challenges.
As a result, the science behind sifting through data and making the right connections is at a tipping point – where rigor, discipline, intellectual curiosity, and empathy are critical when identifying unique breakthroughs and innovative thinking.
For people with an aptitude and passion for math, logic, and investigative sleuthing, the role of data scientist appears to be a good fit. The work is meaningful with high visibility. Salary compensation is good. Career prospects are promising. The role even ranks high in work-life balance. Yet, despite all of these compelling advantages, women are still largely underrepresented.
Although women make up half of the world’s population, it is well-known that they don’t even come close to parity in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Considering that data scientists enjoy many of the benefits that women have been striving to achieve in the workplace for decades, this reality is frustrating for many companies and women’s organizations.
A Call for Greater Gender Diversity in Data Science
In recent years, global technology leaders have been making significant investments in initiatives to support a rich mix of gender perspectives that can help drive innovation and better serve customers. Such efforts include commitments to place women in 25% of all leadership roles, leadership excellence acceleration, and certification for economic dividends for gender equality. Even community initiatives – such as Girls Who Code, Girl Smarts, TechGirlz, and the European Center for Women and Technology – provide an opportunity to empower millions of young girls to explore their talent in STEM fields.
By offering opportunities to further grow skill sets through education and professional development, businesses are wisely investing in the power of diversity to drive innovation and revenue growth through data science. However, for women, data science is more than just teaching women to code or opening new doors to career growth. It’s about standing up and shaping the next digital revolution.
Over the years, a growing population of women has acquired the economic means, education, and social acceptance needed to take on this challenge. Hopefully, this trend will mean that the conversation around STEM-related fields and data science will shift away from gender equality within the next five to 10 years and focus more on creating more innovative technology and making better decisions. But, unfortunately, we are not there yet. Unless changes are made in the current social system, the conversation will not shift organically.
The Importance of Building and Engaging the Data Science Community
One of the key steps to motivate women of all ages to actively contribute to data science is to engage in meaningful and supportive discussion about best practices, exchange personal successes and failures, and connect with potential mentors and collaborators. In essence, women learn best through a community.
This is one of the many reasons why Ann Rosenberg, vice president and head of Global SAP University Alliances and SAP Next-Gen, has stepped up to become the Global Ambassador for the Women in Data Science Conference (WiDS) for SAP. This partnership with Stanford University is leading a movement across the company and its global ecosystem to encourage young women to pursue education and careers in data science.
In collaboration with Stanford’s Institute for Computational & Mathematical Engineering (ICME), SAP Next-Gen, Google, Microsoft, and Walmart Labs, the WiDS main conference will take place at Stanford University, and over 50 locations worldwide will host supportive satellite events featuring live streams, recordings, and interactive Skype corners.
With an aim to inspire and educate data scientists of all genders and to support women in the field, this community will present the latest data science research across a variety of industries and scenarios, discuss how leading-edge companies are using data science for success, and provide opportunities to connect with peers. The speaking roster is full of prominent female data science professionals and leaders including Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Google Cloud; Janet George, Fellow and Chief Data Officer of Western Digital; Deborah Frincke, Director of Research for the U.S. National Security Agency; and Sinead Kaiya, Chief Operating Officer of Products and Innovation at SAP.
By sharing stories and participating in community-driven experiences, women of all ages and career levels can get a better sense of how to tackle barriers to personal growth and success. They can find creative ways to leverage their unique skills, mentality, and natural abilities ranging from a collaborative style to nurturing sensibilities such as humility, insight, intellectual curiosity, and empathy.
Over time, these interactions will build on each other – eventually giving women the courage to rise up, take risks, and perform at a level that meets and exceeds corporate expectations. And one by one, every woman who takes up this challenge plays a part in enabling future generations to collaborate, innovate, and compete without bias and with full equality.
We invite women worldwide to join this important movement.