A More Equal World: Fostering Female Leaders in Data Science

March 8 marks International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme – #ChoosetoChallenge – encourages people everywhere to challenge gender bias, take action for a more equal world, and recognize women’s achievements.

At the current rate of change, it will take almost 100 years to achieve gender parity, an unacceptable timeline in today’s modern world. Increasing women’s participation in the labor market will play a large role in achieving gender parity, and it will not only lead to more innovative, more profitable companies, but on a global scale it could add up to $28 trillion — or 26% — to the global GDP. The math is simple and we cannot afford to continue to overlook half the population, especially in the field of data science, one of the fastest- growing job markets worldwide.

Amid the current pandemic, women are facing even more barriers in the workforce as they manage their professional lives while taking care of the children and overseeing many of the household duties. At SAP, we recognize the value of empowering and celebrating women in the workforce, especially women in technology, where historically, women face underrepresentation. One of the fields where this is particularly prominent is data science: only 16.4% of data scientists are female. This staggering statistic inspired SAP to become a trusted collaborator and sponsor of Stanford University’s Women in Data Science (WiDS) initiative since 2016.

Women in Data Science

As a technology company that employs data scientists worldwide, we want to address why few women are embarking on careers in data science and why few women are advancing into data science leadership roles. Despite the value of a technology skill set, studies on the future of work show the increasing demand for emotional intelligence among employers. Studies show women tend to score higher than men when it comes to emotional intelligence, reinforcing the need to foster female leaders across every industry, including data science. At SAP, we strongly support the WiDS mission “to inspire and educate data scientists worldwide, regardless of gender, and to support women in the field.”

“Data science is becoming ever more critical in the world as data-driven decision-making has penetrated many parts of our society,” said Margot Gerritsen, professor at Stanford University and co-director of WiDS.  “As our reliance on data and investments in this field continue to increase, it is critical that women, and people from all genders, have a clear seat at the decision table and share in the wealth creation, all around the globe. Through our conferences, workshops, datathon, podcasts, and education initiatives, we hope to expand the role of women and accelerate their representation in the field.”

The WiDS Worldwide Conference, spearheaded by Stanford University, kicks off on International Women’s Day, March 8. The event will follow the sun, spotlighting incredible female data scientists working on innovative technology across business, academia, government, and nonprofits.

“It is great to see how many amazing and inspiring women this event brings together from all over the world. Female role models are crucial in fostering female leadership in the field of data science. They show the next generation what is possible to achieve, and that is very powerful,” shared Dr. Katharina Schäfer, global head of SAP University Alliances. “I’m excited to see Karina Edmonds, a globally recognized visionary leader in the field of innovation, technology transfer, and commercialization, represent SAP at the WiDS Worldwide Conference, where she will share how data science education can effectively empower future leaders to tackle big global and environmental challenges.”

On the sideline of the global event, SAP will host a regional event in New York City that will take place virtually, bringing together data-driven business professionals, students, and aspiring data scientists to explore “The Path to Data Science Leadership.”

The NYC regional event will kick off a “WiDS @ SAP” regional series on SAP Purpose Network Live that will run throughout the course of the year. This series will include virtual events based in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia.  The worldwide and regional events will feature prominent SAP data scientists, including Dr. Fei-Yu Xu, global head of Artificial Intelligence in Innovation; Dr. Susanne Beckers, head of Infused Intelligence in Intelligent Data and Analytics; and Dr. Sarah Detzler, competence lead for Data Science and Machine Learning in Technical Presales.

Diversity and Inclusion at SAP

To embed diversity and inclusion even further into the culture of SAP, we are committed to ensuring that our workforce better reflects the diversity of society and the customers we serve. We also aim to increase the number of women in leadership roles to 30% by 2022. Women currently make up 43% of the Intelligent Data & Analytics team at SAP and 26% of its leadership team, with an increasing trend over the last 12 months. This sets a strong example for the company and reinforces the trajectory toward a more representative workforce.

“Each hire we make at SAP, from our working students and interns, to our early talents, to our professionals and executives, needs to embody curiosity and compassion,” said Jenn Prevoznik, global leader, Early Career Talent Attraction, SAP. “Hiring managers and recruiters look for candidates’ ability to code. As a technology company, many of our open roles target individuals with a technology skill set. We value our partnership with WiDS and actively leverage the events to attract and hire top talent to SAP. I challenge all managers to make every day International Women’s Day and be intentional about who you hire. In recruiting, we invest heavily in increasing the number of women and underrepresented groups in the pipeline. We need all hands on deck to move the needle.”

Join WiDS @ SAP

Register for the WiDS Worldwide Conference on March 8 and the regional WiDS @ SAP events happening throughout the year as we #ChoosetoChallenge the status quo and discover ways to foster female leaders in data science.


Christian Hecker is global vice president and chief data and analytics officer at SAP. Dr. Karina Edmonds is vice president and global head of SAP Academies and SAP University Alliances.

This article first appeared on the SAP Global News Center.